Conservation of a Neotropical Herpetofauna: An Introduction to the Crisis of Amphibians and Reptiles in Central America and Beyond

  • Mark SpanglerEmail author


It is fairly well known that, as a whole, biodiversity increases from either pole towards the equator. Accordingly, tropical Central America is home to a disproportionately high number of species (especially considering its surface area). The previous two chapters have outlined such diversity for amphibians and reptiles. Apart from deforestation, however, the conservation struggles faced by tropical areas are less well known. Highly industrialized nations such as the USA and those in Western Europe are widely recognized as suffering from biodiversity loss. They are also, by and large, believed to be endowed with the means and knowledge to combat such loss effectively, as well as to make the issues known to a reasonably sympathetic (and global) public. Developing tropical areas, on the other hand, have conservation dilemmas of their own, many of which are poorly understood and difficult to mitigate. Additionally, poverty is currently more prevalent among these tropical nations; their inhabitants are often (out of necessity) more concerned with making a living for themselves and their families than with biodiversity. The plight of amphibians and reptiles is rarely given due consideration. This chapter introduces four topics in the conservation of Central America’s herpetofauna. First, the status of these animals is briefly examined. Next, the threats they face (some of which are unique to the area, others are more indicative of a wider global phenomenon) are explored. Then the importance of amphibians and reptiles is explained. Lastly, management practices and suggestions are discussed for neotropical herpetofauna.


Conservation Chytrid disease Tropical ecology Climate change Dispersal 


  1. Allen R, Lee W (2006) Biological invasions in New Zealand. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  2. Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (2013) A project to save Panama’s incredible frogs and salamanders. Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project: Accessed 1 Feb 2013
  3. AmphibiaWeb (2013) AmphibiaWeb. AmphibiaWeb Accessed 2013
  4. Anchukaitis K, Evan M (2010) Tropical cloud forest climate variability and the demise of the Monteverde golden toad. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:5036–5040PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baillie J, Hilton-Taylor C, Stuart S (2004) 2004 IUCN Red list of threatened species: a global assessment. IUCN, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Bandura A (2007) Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement. Int J Innov Sustain Dev 2:8–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown J, Bird M (2010) Costa Rica’s sustainable resource management: successfully tackling tropical deforestation. Overseas Development Institute, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Buck D (2012) Stepping in the right direction: giving mother earth rights. The Pachamama Alliance. Accessed 3 April 2013
  9. Colander D (2000) The death of neoclassical economics. J Hist Econ Thought 22:128–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Czech B (2000) Shoveling fuel for a runaway train: errant economists, shameful spenders, and a plan to stop them all. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  11. Daly H, Farley J (2003) Ecological economics: principles and applications. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  12. De la Cruz EM, Castillo L (2002) The use of pesticides in Costa Rica and their impact on coastal ecosystems. In: Taylor M, Klaine S, Carvalho F, Barcelo D, Everaarts J (eds) Pesticide residues in Coastal Tropical ecosystems. Routledge, London, pp 338–372Google Scholar
  13. Dever J, Densmore L (2001) Microsatellites in Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) and their utility in addressing crocodilian population genetics questions. J Herpetol 35:541–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ellison A (2004) Wetlands of Central America. Wetl Ecol Manage 12:3–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fahrig L (1997) Relative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on population extinction. J Wildl Manage 61:603–610CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Forman RTT (1995) Land mosaics: the ecology of landscapes and regions. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Gardner S, Oberdorster E (2005) Toxicology of reptiles. CRC Press, Boca Raton.Google Scholar
  18. Garg A, Hippargi R, Gandhare A (2008) Toad skin-secretions: potent source of pharmacologically and therapeutically significant compounds. Int J Pharm 5:17Google Scholar
  19. Gibbons J et al (2000) The global decline of reptiles, deja vu amphibians. BioScience 50:652–666CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Global Biodiversity Information Facility (2013) GBIF. GBIF Accessed 2 Feb 2013
  21. Grant P, Woudneh M, Ross P (2013) Pesticides in blood from spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) downstream of banana plantations in Costa Rica. Env Toxic Chem 32:2576–2583Google Scholar
  22. Gray M, Miller D, Hoverman J (2009) Ecology and pathology of amphibian ranaviruses. Dis Aquat Org 87:243–266PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Herbst L (1994) Fibropapillomatosis of marine turtles. Annu Rev Fish Dis 4:389–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. International Union for Conservation of Nature (2013) Our mission & vision. Amphibian specialist group: Accessed 2 Feb 2013
  25. Irwin L, Irwin K (2005) Global threats affecting the status of reptile populations. In: Gardner S, Oberdorster E (eds) Toxicology of reptiles. CRC Press, Boca Raton pp 9–34Google Scholar
  26. Jacobson S, Lopez A (1994) Biological impacts of ecotourism: tourists and nesting turtles in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Wildl Soc Bul 22:414–419Google Scholar
  27. Janzen F (1994) Climate change and temperature-dependent sex determination in reptiles. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 91:7487–7490PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Justus J, Colyvan M, Regan H, Maguire L (2009) Buying into conservation: intrinsic versus instrumental value. Trends Ecol Evol 24:187–191PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Knapp R, Matthews K (2000) Non-native fish introductions and the decline of the mountain yellow-legged frog from within protected areas. Conserv Biol 14:428–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kricher J (1997) A neotropical companion. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  31. Leopold A (1966) The land ethic. In: Leopold A (eds) A sand county almanac. Oxford University Press, Inc, New York, pp 237–264Google Scholar
  32. Lips K (1998) Decline of a tropical montane amphibian fauna. Conserv Biol 12:106–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lips K (1999) Mass mortality and population declines of anurans at an upland site in western Panama. Conserv Biol 13:117–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lips K et al (2006) Emerging infectious disease and the loss of biodiversity in a Neotropical amphibian community. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103:3165–3170PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lorne J, Salmon M (2007) Effects of exposure to artificial lighting on orientation of hatchling sea turtles on the beach and in the ocean. Endanger Species Res 3:23–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Low T (2002) Feral future: the untold story of Australia’s exotic invaders. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  37. Miller GT Jr (2007) Living in the environment: principles, connections, and solutions. Brooks Cole Publishing, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  38. Naess A (1973) The shallow and the deep, long range ecology movement. Inquiry: An Interdisc J Phil 16:95–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ott R (2005) Sound truth and corporate myth$: the legacy of the exxon valdez oil spill. Dragonfly Sisters Press, CordovaGoogle Scholar
  40. Paine R (1995) A conversation on refining the concept of a keystone species. Conserv Biol 9:962–964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Platt S, Thorbjarnarson J (2000) Population status and conservation of Morelet’s crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, in northern Belize. Biol Conserv 96:21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pounds J, Crump M (1994) Amphibian declines and climate disturbance: the case of the golden toad and the harlequin frog. Conserv Biol 8:72–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pounds J et al (2006) Widespread amphibian extinctions from epidemic disease driven by global warming. Nature 439:161–167PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Prieto C, Harrison E (2012) Report on the 2011 Green Turtle Program at Tortuguero, Costa Rica. San Pedro: Sea Turtle ConservancyGoogle Scholar
  45. Puschendorf R, Bolanos F, Chaves G (2006) The amphibian chytrid fungus along an altitudinal transect before the first reported declines in Costa Rica. Biol Cons 132:136–142PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Puschendorf R et al (2009) Distribution models for the amphibian chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Costa Rica: proposing climatic refuges as a conservation tool. Divers Distrib 15:401–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Radermacher F-J (2004) Balance or destruction: ecosocial market economy as the key to global sustainable development. Oekosoziales Forum Europa, Vienna, Austria.Google Scholar
  48. Reading C et al (2010) Are snake populations in decline? Biol Lett 6:777–780PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rhodin A, Walde A, Horne B, van Dijk P, Blanck T, Hudson R (2011) Turtles in trouble: the world’s 25+ most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. Turtle Conservation Coalition, LunenburgGoogle Scholar
  50. Rödder D, Kielgast J, Lötters (2010) Future potential distribution of the emerging amphibian chytrid fungus under anthropogenic climate change. Dis Aquat Organ 92:201–207PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rosales J (2008) Economic growth, climate change, biodiversity loss: distributive justice for the global North and South. Conserv Biol 22:1406–1417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rovito S, Parra-Olea G, Vasquez-Almazan C, Papenfuss T, Wake D (2009) Dramatic declines in neotropical salamander populations are an important part of the global amphibian crisis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106:3231–3236PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schlaepfer M, Hoover C, Dodd KJ (2005) Challenges in evaluating the impact of the trade in amphibians and reptiles on wild populations. BioScience 55:256–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Scott B (1997) Colonizing cane toads cause population declines in native predators: reliable anecdotal information and management implications. Pac Conserv Biol 3:65–72Google Scholar
  55. Simberloff D, Schmitz D, Brown T (1997) Strangers in paradise: impact and management of nonindigenous species in Florida. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  56. Sinervo B et al (2010) Erosion of lizard diversity by climate change and altered thermal niches. Science 328:894–899PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Skerratt L, Berger L, Speare R, Cashins S, McDonald K, Phillott A et al (2007) Spread of chytridiomycosis has caused the rapid global decline and extinction of frogs. EcoHealth 4:135–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Spangler M, Huettmann F (2012) Amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) prevalence surveys June thru July 2011 at La Suerte, Costa Rica. U.S. Geological Survey Core Science Metadata Clearinghouse: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Soulé M (1985) What is conservation biology? BioScience: 727–734Google Scholar
  60. Sparling D, Linder G, Bishop C, Krest S (2010) Ecotoxicology of amphibians and reptiles. CRC Press, Pensacola.Google Scholar
  61. Spotila J (2004) Sea turtles: a complete guide to their biology, behavior, and conservation. The Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  62. Stephen C, Pasaschnik S, Reuter A, Moasig P, Ruyle L, Fitzgerald L (2011). Survey of status, trade, and exploitation of Central American Iguanas. TRAFFIC; USFWSGoogle Scholar
  63. Stuart S et al (2004) Status and trends of amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide. Science 306:1783–1786PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Thomas C et al (2004) Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427:145–148PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Thorbjarnarson J (2006) Regional habitat conservation priorities for the American crocodile. Biol Conserv 128:25–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Thrupp L (1991) Sterilization of workers from pesticide exposure: the causes and consequences of Dbcp-induced damage in Costa Rica and beyond. Int J Health Serv 21:731–757PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Thuiller W (2007) Biodiversity: climate change and the ecologist. Nature 448:550–552PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Todd B, Willson J, Gibbons J (2010) The global status of reptiles and causes of their decline. In: Sparling D, Linder G, Bishop C, Krest S (eds) Ecotoxicology of amphibians and reptiles, vol. 2. CRC Press, Pensacola pp 42–63Google Scholar
  69. Wake D, Vredenburg V (2008) Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105:11466–11473PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Weston A (1985) Beyond intrinsic value: pragmatism in environmental ethics. Env Ethics 7:321–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Whiles M et al (2006) The effects of amphibian population declines on the structure and function of Neotropical stream ecosystems. Front Ecol Env 4:27–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Whitfield SM, Kerby J, Gentry L, Donnelly M (2012a) Temporal variation in infection prevalence by the amphibian chytrid fungus in three species of frogs at La Selva, Costa Rica. Biotropica 44:779–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Whitfield SM, Donnelly MA, Geerdes E, Kerby J (2012b) Ranavirus infection in native amphibians at La Selva biological station, Costa Rica: first report of ranavirus in Central America. Herpetol Rev 43:425Google Scholar
  74. Wilson L, McCranie J (2003) Herpetofaunal indicator species as measures of environmental stability in Honduras. Caribb J Sci 39:50–67Google Scholar
  75. Young B (2001) Population declines and priorities for amphibian conservation in Latin America. Conserv Biol 15:1213–1223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Young B, Stuart S, Chanson J, Cox N, Boucher T (2004) Disappearing jewels: the status of new world amphibians. NatureServe, ArlingtonGoogle Scholar
  77. Zoological Society of London (2013) Slithering towards extinction. Animal Conservation,1050,NS.html. Accessed 31 March 2013

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maderas Rainforest ConservancyMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations