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New population of endangered Fiji ground frog rediscovered on Viti Levu

09/12/2008 08:37:26

Fiji ground frog. Credit Nature Fiji.

Fiji's endangered and endemic Fiji Ground Frog (Platymantis vitianus) has been rediscovered in an expedition into the Nakauvadra Range by local scientists.

December 2008. The Fiji ground frog (locally known as Dreli, Boto ni Viti, or Ula) is one of Fiji's three endemic frogs. Naturalists working in Fiji over the past 20 years had widely accepted that two species: the Fiji ground frog (P. vitianus) and the Megabotoniviti (P. megabotoniviti) had been eaten to extinction by introduced mongooses and humans on Vanua Levu and Viti Levu and were thought to only persist on the mongoose-free islands of Gau, Ovalau, Taveuni and Viwa (Tailevu). In 2003 there was the rediscovery of a population of the Fiji ground frogs in the Waisali Forest Reserve by the South Pacific Regional Herbarium.

Unsuccessful surveys
Local herpetologists have in the past five years searched for surviving populations of the ground frogs in likely frog habitats on Viti Levu. The Viti Levu surveys into the Savura, Sovi Basin, Wabu and Tomaniivi Forest reserves were unsuccessful in locating any surviving populations and suggested that these frogs had indeed perished on Viti Levu.

A ten day expedition into the Nakauvadra Mountains by a team of researchers from the 17th to 28th November, 2008 has revealed otherwise. The rediscovery of the Fiji ground frogs was made in the first night near the expedition campsite.

"This rediscovery highlights the fact that we know so little about our own forests and the animals that inhabit them. Imagine how much more we would discover if we got our young people involved in learning about our plants and animals and their habitat. It is expeditions and research such as these that paint a more accurate picture of our unique wildlife in Fiji" Ms Nunia Thomas - NatureFiji-MareqetiViti coordinator and Herpetofauna team leader.

Refuge for endangered species
"The rediscovery of the Fiji ground frogs (and a few other unique species) during the expedition supports the notion that the Nakauvadra Range is like "noah's ark" or an "island refuge" for some of our endangered wildlife" Mr. Marika Tuiwawa, Curator of the South Pacific Regional Herbarium and Nakauvadra expedition team leader.

Conservation International
The expedition is part of a Conservation International initiative to define Key Biodiversity Areas on Viti Levu and was funded by the Fiji Water Foundation.

Endemic frogs

Fiji currently has 2 species of endemic frogs: the Fiji tree frog and Fiji ground frog and one toad species: the cane toad. The cane toad is native to South America and was introduced into Fiji in 1936 as a biological control agent for the insect pests in the sugar industry. Cane toads are poisonous.

Fiji tree frogs were also found in the Nakauvadra range. This is the only other site, aside from Vanua Levu in which all three amphibian species: the Fiji tree frog, Fiji ground frog and the cane toad co-exist.

The expedition team was led by the Institute of Applied Sciences of the USP and composed of experts in the different fields of Botany and vegetation ecology, Herpetology, Entomology, Ornithology, Icythology and Archeology from various government agencies, conservation non-governmental organizations and institutions namely the University of the South Pacific, Department of Forestry, National Trust for Fiji, Fiji Museum, Conservation International, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti and Wetlands International. The villagers of Vatukacevaceva, Narara, Rewasa, Nayaulevu, Namuaimada, Navolau and Vunisea played a key role in the expedition as guides and experts on the terrain and the Nakauvadra Range. Assistance with coordination, logistical arrangements and Fijian Protocol was provided by the Ra Provincial Office and the Office of the Provincial Administrator, Ra.

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