Catastrophic Population Declines and Extinctions in Neotropical Harlequin Frogs (Bufonidae: Atelopus)

BiotropicaLa Marca E

We surveyed the population status of the Neotropical toad genus Atelopus, and document recent catastrophic declines that are more severe than previously reported for any amphibian genus. Of 113 species that have been described or are candidates for description, data indicate that in 42 species, population sizes have been reduced by at least half and only ten species have stable populations. The status of the remaining taxa is unknown. At least 30 species have been missing from all known localities for at least eight years and are feared extinct. Most of these species were last seen between 1984 and 1996. All species restricted to elevations of above 1000m have declined and 75 percent have disappeared, while 58 percent of lowland species have declined and 38 percent have disappeared. The fungal disease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been documented from nine species that have declined, and may explain declines in higher elevation species that occur in undisturbed habitats. Climate change may also play a role, but other potential factors such as environmental contamination, trade, and introduced species are unlikely to have affected more than a handful of species. Widespread declines and extinctions in Atelopus may reflect population changes in other Neotropical amphibians that are more difficult to survey, and the loss of this trophic group may have cascading effects on other species in tropical ecosystems.

NatureServe Author(s)


  • Enrique La Marca Karen R. Lips Stefan Lötters Robert Puschendorf Roberto Ibáñez José Vicente Rueda‐Almonacid Rainer Schulte Christian Marty Fernando Castro Jesús Manzanilla‐Puppo Juan Elías García‐Pérez Federico Bolaños Gerardo Chaves J. Alan Pounds Eduardo Toral Bruce E. Young