Saturday, February 15, 2014

Is it really the end?

Boophis albilabris
I can’t believe it is getting to the end of my time here in Madagascar.  7 weeks seemed so long on the first day but it went by with a blink of the eye.  I spent our final days sampling frogs at the Vohimana reserve and the Mitsinjo Forest.  In my mind, I thought I had seen enough frogs but when we caught some Boophis albilabris at Vohimana and five Spinomantis aglavai in Mitsinjo forest, it was quite a treat!

Sampling for this trip was completed on Feb 10th and we have successfully collected over 500 samples for probiotics from over 90 species of frogs. I couldn’t be happier with the efforts of this trip!

Spinomantis aglavai
The last couple of days I have been having meetings in Tana with representatives from the Department of Forestry, the Cellule d’Urgence Chytride, Durrell, MNP, Conservation International, Ambatovy, Veterninary Sciences and Animal Biology Department of the University of Tana to discuss our collaborative initiative to work toward finding effective probiotics for Malagasy amphibians.  On the first day, we discussed the background about Bd, the killer amphibian fungus, and I also presented on our proactive plan for conservation of amphibians using probiotics.  We showed the group here the preliminary results from the laboratory work in the USA – showing that we have 7 bacterial isolates that can inhibit Bd by at least 95%. The afternoon was filled with discussions about the next steps and how we can work together to rapidly identify effective probiotics.  It was an exhausting but successful day!

On day 2, we spent the day at the University, and I demonstrated for the stakeholders here the methods of the activities we have been doing in the USA, including bacteria culturing and DNA extraction, and presented a tutorial on the methods of qPCR. We also toured some of the labs to determine how we can build capacity here in Madagascar for isolating probiotic bacteria. 

Boophis luteus
On the third and final day we were joined by another US researcher Jonathan Kolby who will be working with the Cellule d’Urgence Chytride to sample Bd in Madagascar. We finalized our discussion of probiotics and discussed that if and when Bd arrived what are the best ways to rapidly respond and conserve Malagasy frogs. These meetings with the government were most productive and encouraging!

On Monday, I will be on a plane back to the States.  A few days ago I would have said I was ready to return from the grueling field work…But already I feel the call of the jungle and frogs that is beckoning me to stay.  I can’t wait to return on our next trip to continue sampling and building capacity here in Madagascar to save the frogs!
Thanks to all that have made my trip possible:  Faly Rabemananjara and the Cellule d'Urgence, Devin Edmonds and Association MITSINJO, Nirhy Rabibisia and Franco Andreone from ASG-Madagascar, DGF, MNP, ASA, Universite d' Antananarivo and our student assistant- Serge Ndriantsoa, Che Weldon from North-West University, Miguel Vences from TU-Braunschweig, Reid Harris from James Madison University, and our grant supporters - Mohamed bin Zayed Conservation Fund and the Chester Zoo - and the private donors who have supported by
While it is the end of quite an amazing field season, it is really only the beginning of our collaborative effort to develop effective frog probiotics!

Working to save the frogs,


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Into the rice patties we go...

It was great to be back with the frogs after our taxi brousse adventure.  Our next adventure took us to the forest around Fierenana, just north of Moramanga. The road to get there was an adventure in itself.  Victor our driver did a fantastic job maneuvering around the potholes, steering clear of the landslides, and crossing bridges just wide enough for the suspension of the land cruiser. We managed to get stuck only twice! But when we got stuck we were really stuck.

Rice fields of Fierenana
Five-six hours of bumping around in the car and pushing to car out of the mud twice we arrived in Fierenana.  We got there much later than expected so we stayed the night in a local family's house. After talking with the local guide we found out that the site with the Mantella milotympanum we wanted to visit was at least a 4 hr hike.  We planned to start around 4:30 AM to get to the site mid-morning but of course in Malagasy time the porters arrived around 5:30.  Eventually we were on our way to the home of Mantella milotympanum.  The area around Fierenana is known for its rice production and the seemingly endless expanse of rice patties spoke truth to that. Not surprisingly, the trek began with a long expanse of rice patties.  It was a balancing act to walk of the small dirt mounds dividing the rice patties. Most of the journey there was traversing rice patties and dirt roads on deforested slopes with some patches of remaining forest.  After about 16 km we reached what the guide told us was the sight.  Devin looked at his GPS and with a puzzled looked explained to the guide that the coordinates of the site were still a few km away.  We mustered up the energy to continue and the trail entered a patch of forest which was much more enjoyable than the rice patties.
Mantella milotympanum
After another hour or two of walking we came to a clearing with a small house and Devin said we were within a km of the site.  The porters and we were exhausted from our 23 km trek so we decided to set up camp in the grassy field by the house (with the approval of the owner of course).  Luckily the rain let up when we were setting up camp. It was so nice to finally get our packs of and rest before sampling at night. 

Boophis rappiodes

We travelled to a nearby river for sampling and there were tons of Boophis rappiodes calling along with other species.  We sampled the frogs that night and got rested up for our early morning Mantella searching.  We started around 6 and headed to a marsh that looked promising from the night before. As we arrived you could already here them calling and within minutes we caught the first one. They are such a cute frog!  I also stumbled upon a Dyscophus guineti which was unexpected and cool. We ended the morning with about 20 Mantella and 4 Dyscophus which was a success for both Karina and I.

The next morning it was already time to hike out so we suited up packs and all and began our trek out.  We had walked so far in that it was actually closer to hike about to another village called Ambohinydri. The trek was a series of rice fields, then a hike over a forested slope, then through another rice field, and up and over another forested slope.  It seemed as though every valley had been taken over by rice. By the end the lower half of my legs were coated in mud from the muddy paths and miss-steps in the rice patties. By 2 our 20+ km trek out was complete and we were one our way back to Andasibe. 

The trip was a success and we now have samples for potential probiotics from the endangered Mantella milotympanum!

Working to save the frogs,