Ecuador, one of the five nations of the world fortunate enough to host both a portion of the Andes and the Amazon Rainforest, is understandably an incredibly biodiverse and ecologically complex region. There are 91 different ecosystems, each containing thousands of different species of plants and animals.
Specifically, Ecuador is home to many different species of the Gastrotheca, a genus of amphibians endemic to parts of Central and South America more commonly known as Marsupial Frogs. These frogs are not true marsupials, as the name suggests, rather they are named for their unique breeding practice where the female carries its eggs in the pouch on its back.
In regards to the food chain, frogs are a crucial species in maintaining the symbiosis of an ecosystem in their roles as both predator and prey. As tadpoles, they control algae blooms which can help mitigate cultural eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems, and, as fully grown frogs, they prey primarily on insects which prevents the overpopulation of harmful species. Their insect-diet also caters to the needs of nearby human communities who benefit from the regulation of disease-bearing insects like mosquitoes.
Frogs also play key roles in research as indicator species. Due to their skin’s high porosity, it quickly absorbs chemicals and bacteria from its surroundings. Because of this, frogs are uniquely valuable as research subjects in determining environmental changes in their habitats. Studying breeding habitats and population changes can shed light disturbances in their ecosystems and inform scientists about the adverse impacts of different environmental issues.
Unfortunately, the same qualities that make frogs exceptional indicators, render them extremely vulnerable to environmental threats such as pesticide usage and climate change. The permeability of their skin puts them at risk for absorbing the chemicals present in their environment while rising temperatures can dry the frogs’ skin which can interfere with their metabolic processes. Furthermore, fluctuating weather patterns can also lead to the premature hatching of tadpoles in irregularly warmer weather which leaves them vulnerable to the cold should it return.
Throughout Ecuador various groups and organizations have recognized the importance of protecting animals like the Marsupial Tree Frog and have taken steps to preserve their habitats and ensure the perpetuation of high biodiversity in Ecuador.
The Quito Biodiverso Project is an effort to protect the Andean or “Quito” Marsupial Tree Frog species, which currently carries the distinction “near threatened.” This species is endemic to Ecuador and found in the ponds and streams outside of Quito and, in 2012, it was declared an “emblematic species of the Metropolitan District of Quito.”
Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is a rapidly expanding metropolis with a steady annual growth rate of 3.8%. It is the second largest city in Ecuador with over 2 million inhabitants, but its continued expansion has threatened the breeding zones of the Marsupial Tree Frog. This biodiversity initiative by the Quito Zoo has the mission of educating the public on habitat loss and the importance of preserving these areas vulnerable to urbanization.
The Fundación para la Conservación de los Andes Tropicales (FCAT) is another biodiversity campaign which works with local Ecuadorian communities to restore habitats and conserve endangered species in the tropical Andes. The organization is based in the Chocó Rainforest— about 45 minutes outside of Quito—and uses both education and research to make progress towards their conservation goals. They highlight the importance of community involvement in both direct and indirect conservation. With plans to create a 4,000 acre “forest corridor” to link their current reserve to another protected region, FCAT is working towards directly preventing future habitat destruction and expanding the network of protected rainforest regions.
Conservation efforts like those of the Quito Biodiverso Project and the FCAT are crucial in sustaining the intense biodiversity of countries like Ecuador and advocating for vulnerable species —like Marsupial Tree Frogs—whose circumstances are all-together determined by human action and decision.
Sophia Turcot is a sophomore undergraduate student at the University of California San Diego pursuing a major in International Relations: Political Science with a minor in Climate Change Sciences. She’s from Los Angeles, CA and was raised in a coastal town where she gained an interest in conservation and ecology, specifically in ocean ecosystems. She believes education plays a vital role in mitigating global climate issues and is excited to be working with Latina Republic to tell the stories of individuals and communities in Latin America and their mission to preserve some of the most biodiverse and beautiful regions in the world.