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Cuad. herpetol.

, 24
24 (1):
(1): 17 – 23, 2010
17–23, 2010 17

ALSODES PEHUENCHE (ANURA: CYCLORAMPHIDAE): PAST,


PRESENT AND FUTURE

V A L E R I A C O R B A L Á N 1,2 , G U I L L E R M O D E B A N D I 1,2
& F L A V I O M A R T Í N E Z 2,3
1 IADIZA-CCT Mendoza-CONICET. Av. Ruiz Leal s/n Parque Gral. San Martín, (5500) Mendoza, Argentina.
2 BIOTA (Asociación para la Conservación de la Diversidad Biológica Argentina).
3 Dirección de Recursos Naturales Renovables de la Provincia de Mendoza, Parque Gral. San Martín,
(5500) Mendoza, Argentina
corbalan@mendoza-conicet.gob.ar, gdebandi@mendoza-conicet.gob.ar,
martinezflavio@yahoo.com.ar

R E S U M E N. — Alsodes pehuenche es una especie endémica del Valle Pehuenche, en los An-
des centrales de la Argentina, en el límite con Chile. Su biología es pobremente conocida y, en
consecuencia, ha sido incluida en la categoría de Datos Insuficientes por la UICN. En esta contri-
bución se proporcionan nuevos datos para la especie y se describen las amenazas que está su-
friendo. La pavimentación de la ruta nacional 145 ha modificado los cursos de agua de los arroyos
habitados por A. pehuenche, produciendo una alteración del hábitat y una mortalidad cercana al
25% de la población. Se cita por primera vez a A. pehuenche para Chile, aumentando su distribu-
ción geográfica conocida que alcanza los 9 km2. En el futuro, partículas contaminantes provenien-
tes del tránsito vehicular podrían alcanzar los arroyos modificando seriamente la calidad del agua.
Tanto la alteración de los cursos de agua como la contaminación, junto a otras amenazas impor-
tantes como el ganado doméstico, eventos de crecidas naturales y el cambio climático, podrían
afectar severamente la supervivencia de la especie, especialmente si se tienen en cuenta sus há-
bitos acuáticos y su peculiar ciclo de vida con un período metamórfico que dura varios años. Se
están llevando a cabo acciones de conservación, pero el éxito de las mismas aún no está garanti-
zado. El esfuerzo conjunto de investigadores y gobierno es esencial para lograrlo. Consideramos
que en la actualidad hay datos suficientes para realizar un cambio de categoría de amenaza, de
Datos Insuficientes a especie Críticamente Amenazada.
PALABRAS CLAVE: Conservación, ranita del Pehuenche, amenazas, peligro crítico.

A B S T R A C T. — Alsodes pehuenche is an endemic species of the Pehuenche Valley in


the Central Andes of Argentina, on the border with Chile. Its biology is poorly known, and in
consequence, has been categorized as Data Deficient by IUCN. In this contribution, we give
new data on the species, and describe the threats it is facing. The paving of national route 145
modified the courses of the streams inhabited by A. pehuenche, producing habitat alteration and
mortality of nearly 25% of the population. For the first time, A. pehuenche is cited for Chile,
expanding its known geographical distribution area that reaches 9 km2. In the future,
contaminant particles from vehicle traffic could arrive in the streams modifying water quality.
Alteration of watercourses and contamination, as well as other important threats like domestic
livestock, natural flooding events and climate change, could severely affect survival of the
species, especially taking into account their aquatic habits and their peculiar life cycle with a
metamorphic period that lasts many years. Conservation actions are in progress, but success is
not yet guaranteed. A partnership between researchers and government is essential for success.
We believe that information about P. pehuenche is now enough to make a category change
from Data Deficient to Critically Endangered.
KEYWORDS: Conservation, Pehuenche‘s frog, Threats, Critically Endangered.

R e c i b i d o : 2 1 / 0 5 / 1 0 — A c e p t a d o : 1 0 / 0 6 / 1 0
E d . a s o c . : R . M o n t e r o
18 V. C O R B A L Á N et al.: Alsodes pehuenche

Conservationists agree that the ma- this species’ conservation status at local
jor causes of decline or extinction of and global level.
species are of anthropic origin (habitat
destruction and fragmentation, contami-
nation, introduction of exotic species, DISTRIBUTION
climate change) as well as emerging in- AND POPULATION SIZE
fectious diseases (Young et al., 2001;
Collins and Storfer, 2003; Stuart et al., The attempts to find individuals of
2004; Pounds et al., 2006). Species A. pehuenche in streams other than
management is only possible when basic those near the International Pehuenche
aspects of their biology are known in Pass failed (Corbalán et al, 2008). We
order to be able to take the right steps found suitable conditions for this species
towards recovery of the populations, only in five streams that flow down to-
and red lists help conservationists to wards the Argentinean side from the
prioritize efforts directed toward biodi- northwest-facing slopes of the Pehu-
versity preservation. enche Valley (Fig. 1D and Fig. 2). In
Alsodes pehuenche (Cei, 1976) (Fig. the Chilean side, at least in one stream
1A-C) was described from mountain from the same slope (WGS 84, 36.0004º
snowmelt streams of the Pehuenche S, 70.4041º W, 2450 m asl) were ob-
Valley in the Central Andes of Argenti- served high concentration of different
na, on the border with Chile (WGS 84, aged tadpoles, especially in small ponds
35.97342º S, 70.38181º W, 2523 m asl) near the route. Thus, this is the first
(Fig. 1D). During 30 years no studies known record of Alsodes pehuenche for
were made on its biology, and no new Chile, although more studies are neces-
localities were reported for the species, sary to determine the geographic distri-
which remains as endemic to this area. bution and population status of this spe-
Because of the absence of biological cies in that country. Only a few meta-
data, this species has been categorized morphosed isolated individuals were
as Data Deficient by IUCN (Lavilla and found in streams located on the oppo-
Basso, 2004) as well as by Lavilla et al. site side of the Pehuenche valley (facing
(2000) at national level, and no atten- southeast) in Argentina. According to
tion to its actual conservation status these data, the known distribution area
has been manifested by biologists or for the species is about 9 km2 (Fig. 1D),
governmental authorities up to the which encompasses all the above cited
present time. streams. This area is smaller than the
In 2006, the beginning of the paving minimal area considered by IUCN (cri-
of national route 145, which includes a teria B1 and B2) for species in critical
mountain pass toward Chile, alerted us risk of extinction (UICN, 2001). Howev-
about the possible impact of these er, taking into account that this species
works on the population of A. pehu- occupy only those streams and swamps
enche, since this road cuts across the inside of this distributional area, the ef-
streams inhabited by the frog. Since fectively geographic occupation is clearly
February 2007 to date, we assessed the lower than the 9 km2 estimated. A
population status and the possible im- study conducted in January 2008 in the
pact of the paving works and conse- Argentinean side (unpubl. data.) allowed
quent vehicular traffic on the habitat of us to count 350 metamorphosed individ-
A. pehuenche, detecting serious risks uals (juveniles and adults) and approxi-
for the species’ survival. The aim of mately 1000 tadpoles of different stages
this contribution is to present the actu- and ages. We infer that the population
al status of the population and its risks at that time did not exceed 500 meta-
in order to set precedent for changing morphosed individuals, a low number
Cuad. herpetol., 24 (1): 17 – 23, 2010 19

Figure 1. Alsodes pehuenche. A: Adult female, dorsal view. B: Adult male, lateral view. C:
Adult male, ventral view. D: Known geographic distribution for Alsodes pehuenche.
20 V. C O R B A L Á N et al.: Alsodes pehuenche

taking into account that this is an en- transparent, with pH ranging from 6.08
demic species and that it is only to 7.66, very low conductivity (7.3-66.6
present at one locality. µS/cm), and very high dissolved oxygen
(72-108%).
All five streams inhabited by A. pe-
HABITAT ALTERATION huenche on the Argentinean side are
crossed by the road. In December 2008
The habitat of A. pehuenche (Fig. 2) we confirmed that the courses of three
was described as snowmelt streams with streams were modified by the paving
stony banks covered by herbaceous veg- works, with the consequent drying of
etation and ponds of spring water, original streams and mortality of the
probably thermal, rich in sulfur deposits individuals present, including metamor-
(Cei, 1965; Cei and Roig, 1965; Cei, phosed individuals and differently aged
1976). However, our studies demon- tadpoles (about 25% of the total popula-
strated that neither the streams nor tion). After many attempts to reverse
the ponds where the species currently this situation by the authors and au-
occurs are thermal, and that the pro- thorities of the environmental agency
portion of sulfur is very low (Corbalán of Mendoza province, watercourses were
et al., 2008). In contrast, water temper- reconnected and the habitat is now
ature could be very low in the morning again ready for colonization by new in-
(2-3ºC in summer months, -0.5ºC in au- dividuals.
tumn), reaching 19ºC at midday. As is In the future, the paved road could
expected for snowmelt streams, water is seriously modify water quality, particu-

Figure 2. Habitat used by Alsodes pehuenche in streams near Paso Pehuenche, 2523 masl,
Mendoza Province, Argentina.
Cuad. herpetol., 24 (1): 17 – 23, 2010 21

larly in the lower reaches of the EXOTIC SPECIES


streams. Contaminant particles from
vehicular transit, like Pb, Zn, Cu, Mo, Because the streams inhabited by A.
antimony, asbestos, and Polycyclic Aro- pehuenche have a maximum width of 2
matic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) (Stadler et m and carry a low volume of water,
al., 2006), could arrive in the streams there is no presence of introduced
via lixiviation or winds. Also the salt salmonids nor possibility of further col-
used for snow melting on the road dur- onization. However, these streams flow
ing winter could alter the ionic compo- into the Pehuenche River where exotic
sition, conductivity and salinity of wa- trouts (Oncorhynchus mykiss) can reach
ter. Actions to avoid or mitigate this to. The presence of these exotic fishes
kind of contamination are in progress, could prevent dispersal of A. pehuenche
but success is not guaranteed. toward streams located on the opposite
The waste left by tourists is also an slope of the Pehuenche Valley.
important factor to take into consider- The area is also impacted by domes-
ation. Large amounts of plastics and tic livestock (cows and goats) that could
other non-biodegrading items are found have an adverse effect on the popula-
in the streams, especially after bi-na- tion of A. pehuenche, especially on tad-
tional annual meetings at the interna- poles, by trampling on swamps and
tional border. Increased traffic once the small ponds, which can change the
road is paved could also increase the course of small shallow streams.
amount of waste in the area.

NATURAL THREATS
LIFE CYCLE
Strong storms and snowmelt events
We have solid evidence suggesting a common in the area could drag individ-
long metamorphic period that includes uals out into the more rushing Pehu-
more than two winters, as was reported enche River, especially tadpoles. A de-
for other congeneric species like A. gar- crease in the number of tadpoles was
gola, A. tumultuosus and A. montanus observed from January to December
(Díaz and Valencia, 1985; Logares and 2008, which was probably caused by a
Úbeda, 2004; Úbeda et al., 2005; sudden increase in water volume during
Casanovas et al., 2006). Most of the lar- May 2008 after an important rainstorm.
vae marked with elastomers in Decem- As adults remain within galleries in the
ber 2008 with an average of 41 mm to- banks of streams, storms and snowmelt
tal longitude, were found again by April may not affect them in the same way
2010 with 63 mm in average of total as it affects tadpoles.
longitude and without forelimbs devel- In addition, climate change would be
oped, and will probably remain in the an important threat to be dealt with by
same stage throughout the winter until this species. Most precipitation in the
the next favorable season (December- Pehuenche Valley falls as snow that ac-
March). Since cohorts at different larval cumulates during winter on the tops of
stages coexist at the same microsites, a hills. Slow snow melting during the
drastic change in habitat conditions, warmer season produces water infiltra-
such as an alteration of watercourses tion that supplies water to the streams
or contamination, could affect several inhabited by A. pehuenche. A change in
tadpole generations at the same time this hydrological cycle can directly af-
and compromise the future age struc- fect the frog population. Less winter
ture of the population. precipitation falling as snow and melting
of winter snow occurring earlier in
22 V. C O R B A L Á N et al.: Alsodes pehuenche

spring are the climate change effects quality. Nelly Horak helped us with the
expected for snow-dominated regions English version.
(Barnett et al., 2005). According to this,
there can be water supply shortage dur-
ing the summer months, when most of LITERATURE CITED
the growth of tadpoles should occur.
BARNETT , T. P.; J. C. ADAM & D. P.
LETTENMAIER. 2005. Potential im-
CONSERVATION ACTIONS pacts of a warming climate on
water availability in snow-domina-
Our concern about the future of this ted regions. Nature 438: 303-309.
endemic species grows by the day. Al- CASANOVAS, P.; R. LOGARES & C. A.
sodes pehuenche is subjected to several ÚBEDA. 2006. Altas biomasas per-
negative actions which, added to its par- manentes de renacuajos en pozas
ticular lifestyle (strongly associated to altoandinas nordpatagónicas. VII
pure water, long metamorphic period), Congreso Argentino de Herpetolo-
could affect its survival. From 2007 to gía, Corrientes. Noviembre de
date we have been informing the gov- 2006, 194 pp.
ernment environmental authorities CEI, J. M. 1965. Comentarios sobre el
about this problem and proposing some hallazgo de Telmatobius montanus
mitigation actions. Sometimes we have Lataste (in Philippi) en la cordille-
been listened to, sometimes not. A ra al sur de Mendoza. Publicación
monitoring program has been set up to ocasional del Instituto de Biología
control water quality, and several lar- de la Universidad Nacional de
vae and adults individuals have been Cuyo 7: 1-4.
marked with elastomers to follow their CEI, J. M. 1976. Remarks on some Neo-
life cycle and movements. The partner- tropical amphibians of the genus
ship between research institutions and Alsodes from Southern Argentina.
government is essential to carry out Atti della Società Italiana di
these actions in a successful manner. Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civi-
co di Storia Naturale di Milano
117 (3-4): 159-164.
CONCLUSIONS CEI, J. M. & V. G. Roig. 1965. The sys-
tematic status and biology of Tel-
We believe that there is now enough matobius montanus Lataste (Am-
information about this species to make phibia, Leptodactylidae). Copeia
a category change. Due to its small pop- (4): 421-425.
ulation size, reduced range extent, as COLLINS, J. P. & A. STORFER. 2003.
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reduction of the population size in the the hypotheses. Diversity & Dis-
next few years, we think that IUCN tributions 9: 89-98.
should change the threat category for CORBALÁN, V.; G. DEBANDI & C. ÚBE-
this species from Data Deficient to DA. 2008. Alsodes pehuenche. Lar-
Critically Endangered. val Biology. Herpetological Review
39 (4): 457-458.
DÍAZ , N. F. & J. VALENCIA. 1985. Mi-
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS crohabitat utilization by two lepto-
dactylid frogs in the Andes of cen-
We thank Idea Wild for providing tral Chile. Oecologia 66: 353-357.
the elastomers and aquatic instrumental LAVILLA, E. & N. BASSO. 2004. Alsodes
to monitor species survival and water pehuenche. In: IUCN. 2010. IUCN
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