A recent article from the Cornell Sun takes a look at the disastrous effect climate change is having on Puerto Rico’s endearing and emblematic tropical frogs called the mountain coqui (pronounced “Koh-kee”).
“I don’t want to tell you I can predict what will happen when they’re all gone … but it won’t be a positive change,” says Kelly Zamudio, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at Cornell who is studying climate change impacts on the mountain coqui.
Zamudio has observed that climate change is resulting in longer dry spells in Puerto Rico’s winter months, which is causing significant added stress to the coqui by making them significantly more susceptible to the deadly imported fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd. Once the wet season returns, the tropical coqui are able to better withstand the threat of Bd.
Zamudio and Cornell graduate student researcher Ana Longo have found that the dry periods in December through April that were once rarely longer than three days are now stretching to as long as nine or 10 days.
These extended dry spells and the resultant increased susceptibility to Bd is part of a deadly chain reaction for the coqui as the frogs often assemble into “clumping sites” to ride out the droughts. These clumping sites are making it far easier for Bd to spread across the species during the extended dry spells.
It’s a deadly climate change cocktail.
It’s “like a train wreck,” Zamudio said in a related ScienceDaily article.
What is happening to the coqui affects me on a personal level too. I made a trip to Puerto Rico this fall and can tell you that the soft and soothing evening and nighttime sounds of the mountain coqui (“co-KEY, co-KEY”) are a trademark of Puerto Rico and its natural beauty.
I will never forget a night kayak trip I took on one of Puerto Rico’s spectacular luminescent bays. Hearing the coqui serenade my traveling companions while each dip and pull of our paddle caused a glowing stardust-like ripple of water — caused by millions of luminescent microorganisms in the dark bay — ranks as one of the most incredible outdoor experiences of my life. As we sat there, still, in the middle of the bay, listening to the coqui and amazed by the glowing water, one of the Puerto Rican guides exclaimed, “I love my job!”
It’s an experience like this that reminds me climate change is not only threatening the mountain coqui of Puerto Rico – and countless other species – but also the soul of these beautiful places and the spirit of the people who love them.
Matt Barrett is marketing manager for climate change at The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user angel.a.acevedo
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