Golden toad that fell on the climate change field of honor

Every year for a few days in the ponds of this rainforest, a whole army of these little batras mysteriously appears to breed. “The ground is very dark, and golden toads loomed like animal figures. It was a real spectacle.” in the center “twisted trees sculpted by the wind and covered with moss”, says Jay Alan Pounds, an ecologist at the Monteverde Biological Reserve in Costa Rica.

But that was before her disappearance, noted in 1990. The Monteverde toad is the first known species to go extinct due to climate change. Several others have joined him in the grave, and this is certainly just the beginning. Even if the world succeeds in limiting warming to +1.5°C above pre-industrial times – the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement – 9% of the world’s species could become extinct, according to UN climate experts (IPCC).

The golden toad lived only in the forests of Monteverde. “About 99% of its population was lost in one year”explains AFP J. Alan Pounds, whose findings are supported by the IPCC report on the effects of global warming, published in February.

“Trigger” climatic

Extinction linked to climate change (AFP - John SAEKI)
Extinction linked to climate change (AFP – John SAEKI)

When the scientist arrived in Costa Rica in the early 1980s to study amphibians, climate change was not a priority, but he was already breathing. After the disappearance of the golden toad and other amphibians such as the Monteverde harlequin frog in this forest, the researchers compared the evolution of the local climate and species populations.

They saw the periodic impact of the El Niño phenomenon, as well as long-term trends associated with climate change, where the decline occurs after unusually hot and dry periods. Chytridiomycosis also played an important role according to J. Alan Pounds and colleagues who summarize as follows: “bullet, climate change pulled the trigger.”

A mechanism that is repeated elsewhere. As for melomys rubicola, a small rodent that lived in the tiny moorland off the coast of Australia and has not been seen since 2009. died out in 2016.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), climate change threatens nearly 12,000 species, of which nearly 6,000 are endangered. “It’s absolutely terrible”comments Wendy Foden, climate expert at the IUCN. “We need a #metoo movement for views.”

International negotiations are underway to conclude a treaty to better conserve nature, in particular by protecting at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030. But with global warming, this classic protection is not enough, Wendy Foden emphasizes. “Even the most remote wilderness areas will be affected by climate change.”

cloudless forest

In Monteverde, even the clouds have changed. Precipitation in this region has increased over the past 50 years, but has become more erratic, alternating between very rainy periods and very dry periods, J. Alan Pounds points out.

In the 1970s, this forest averaged about 25 dry days per year, compared to 115 in the last ten years. And the fog that enveloped the forest to retain moisture during the dry season, which gave the name to this “cloud forest”, has decreased by about 70%. “Often it looks more like a forest of dust than a forest of clouds.”sorry Pounds.

As for the golden toad, last year a group of conservationists went looking for it in its historic habitat in “children’s eternal forest” still in Costa Rica after the rumor that he was seen. But nothing. “Every year it seems less and less likely that he will reappear,” Jay Alan Pounds said.

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