A PhD ecology student has discovered a critically endangered toad thriving in a previously unknown habit in east Africa.
Elena Tonelli found Wendy's forest toads at a new site more than 20 kilometres from their only previously recorded location.
Elena is a PhD student from Manchester Metropolitan University working for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust in the Uzungwa Scarp Nature Reserve (USNR) in Tanzania.
Wendy’s forest toad, Nectophrynoides wendyae, is a species of toad endemic to a single forest in Tanzania. Formerly known only from a tiny area, less than half the size of a football pitch, the species is listed as critically endangered due to its restricted range and ongoing deforestation.
Elena said: “We found dozens of adult wendyae at the new site in a remote part of the USNR, including juveniles which we believe have never been photographed before.
“It was a great way to celebrate the New Year after enduring such tough field conditions. You expect to get wet camping in the rainy season but we had such torrential rain one night that the river rose and cut us off on a little island.”
Intriguingly, the newly discovered toads look slightly different from the only other known population, with distinctly yellow feet. Further research will reveal how closely related the two populations are genetically.
Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust Conservation Programmes Manager Dr Andy Bowkett said: “We hope Elena’s PhD research will help us understand why this part of the Udzungwa Mountains has such an unusual amphibian community and what can be done to conserve it. This is a rare opportunity for amphibian research to directly influence the management plan for a conservation area due to the forest recently being designated as a Nature Reserve.”
Her work is part-funded by zoo visitors and supporters and carried out with the charity’s partners, Manchester Metropolitan University and Museo delle Scienze, Trento, Italy.
Elena Tonelli is a student in Professor Stuart Marsden’s conservation research group in the School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University.
The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust is the charity that runs Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.