Peru’s treasured Manu National Park is the world’s top biodiversity hotspot for reptiles and amphibians, according to a new survey published from the University of California, Berkeley, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (SIU-Carbondale) and Illinois Wesleyan University.
The park, which encompasses lowland Amazonian rain forest, high-altitude cloud forest and Andean grassland east of Cuzco, is well known for its huge variety of bird life, which attracts ecotourists from around the globe.
More than 1,000 species of birds, about 10 percent of the world’s bird species; more than 1,200 species of butterflies; and now 287 reptiles and amphibians have been recorded in the park.
“For reptiles and amphibians, Manu and its buffer zone now stands out as the most diverse protected area anywhere,” said study coauthor Rudolf von May, a postdoctoral researcher in UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
Despite the park’s abundant and diverse animal life, von May said, not all is well in the preserve. The devastating chytrid fungus has caused a decline in the number of frogs there, as it has elsewhere around the world, while deforestation for subsistence living, gold mining and oil and gas drilling are encroaching on the buffer zones around the park.
“All of this is threatening the biodiversity in the park and the native peoples who live in settlements in the park,” von May said. At least four Amazonian tribes and a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers known as Mashco-Piro live within the confines of Manu National Park and its buffer zone, newscenter.berkeley.edu reported.
Von May, a native of Peru, and coauthor Alessandro Catenazzi, an assistant professor of zoology at SIU-Carbondale, have spent more than 15 years each scouring the park and its surrounding areas for frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians – all amphibians – as well as for reptiles such as snakes, lizards, turtles and caimans.
The field work in the park and its buffer zone, augmented by other, more limited surveys published previously, allowed the team to compile a list of 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, including a handful of species new to science.
Taxonomist and coauthor Edgar Lehr, assistant professor of biology at Illinois Wesleyan University, collaborates frequently with von May and Catenazzi on frog taxonomy and studies of amphibian declines and conservation.