Biologists recently crowned a new champion of reptile and amphibian biodiversity, southeastern Perú’s Manú National Park. The 15,328 square kilometer (5,918 sq. mi.) park covers only .01 percent of the Earth’s land surface, yet it hosts 2.2 percent of the planet’s amphibians and 1.5 percent of all reptiles.
The park contains at least 132 species of reptiles and 155 types of amphibians. Eight of those amphibian species and one lizard are new to science and have yet to be officially described. The previous biodiversity champ, Yasuní National Park in eastern Ecuador, contains at least 150 amphibian and 121 reptile species. The journal Biota Neotropica published the species count from Manú National Park.
“There is no place like Manu where we can preserve such an exceptionally large amount of biodiversity, as well as the evolutionary processes that contribute to maintain and promote biodiversity,” said lead author Alessandro Catenazzi, a zoologist at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in a press release.
The critically endangered toad, Atelopus erythropus, survives in Manú. The toad lives only in the cloud forests of the Peruvian Andes Mountains, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Another three endangered and three vulnerable amphibians also dwell within Manú.
Destruction of the forest by oil and mining operations and small-scale farms threaten the amphibians in unprotected areas. However, a deadly fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), known as chytrid, poses the greatest threat to the amphibians. The fungus can eradicate entire populations of frogs and toads. The disease continues to spread in Peru and many other regions around the world.
Manú also provides a home for four alligator-like caiman, 120 lizard and eight turtle species. The IUCN lists two of those shelled reptiles, the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) and the yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulata), as vulnerable to extinction.
Photos: (Top) The tree boa, Corallus batesi, a resident of Manú National Park. Credit: Erfil, Wikimedia Commons. Above: A new species of stream lizard from the genus Potamites. Credit: Alessandro Catenazzi, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale