Tomás Martínez Aguirre is one of our newest Segré EDGE Fellows, who will soon be starting his project focused on the El Rincon stream frog in Argentina. We asked Tomás to write this blog to introduce himself, his project, and explain what an EDGE Fellowship means to him.
Insights of conservation: challenges and achievements of a young biologist
My interest in biology began when I was just a little boy, and I later pursued a career in biology to fulfil my desire in life: working with frogs. I have dedicated my efforts to try to save a unique and critically endangered species, the El Rincon Stream Frog. In this blog you will find how I found out about this frog and what actions I have made so far to ensure the survival of this amazing species.
Ever since I remember I cared about nature. As a little boy I loved going to the field, raising tadpoles and enjoying the landscape. In school, when teachers asked what we would like to be when we grow up, my classmates had answers like “policeman” or “doctor”, but my answer was different: “I want to be a biologist”. I never changed my mind, and when I graduated from school I started a career in biology.
It was hard as I had to move to a city far away from my family because I couldn’t find a career in biology in my hometown. I found myself in a new place, with unknown people and new responsibilities. But even so, I found that my desires did not go away, they strengthened.
I started gaining experience in biology, volunteering with projects focused on amphibians. That’s where I found my passion: doing field surveys at night, listening to the males’ calls and searching for these interesting creatures.
I started to look for more information and take courses related to amphibian biology. I found out that these animals are facing serious global threats and are in danger of disappearing from the planet. I could not stand it, I had to do something. I undertook an exhaustive search to engage in amphibian conservation, but there weren’t many professionals working in conservation in Argentina.
The answer came to me during the herpetology course at university: I was told that a researcher in La Plata Museum, Federico Kacoliris, started to work on conservation with an endangered and distinct species in Argentina: the El Rincon Stream frog (Pleurodema somuncurense). It is the only frog in my country that inhabits in hot springs, at the headwaters of the Valcheta stream. Its small distribution along with the many threats present at its habitat are driving this species towards extinction.
We gathered information to understand why this frog is disappearing, and found a pretty bad scenario: introduced trout is putting the frog under pressure and cattle present in the area feed on aquatic vegetation, reducing shelter and breeding sites essential for the survival of this species. This has already resulted in the extinction of local populations in some of the hot springs.
Urgent measures needed to be taken, and we did so right away. With permission of local government we established a survival and breeding colony in La Plata Museum. We started working with local communities to raise awareness on the impact that these threats have on the El Rincon Stream frog, and managed to establish enclosures on some springs to impede the access of cattle.
Now, the situation has improved. We achieved the first reproduction in captivity, allowing us to initiate a reintroduction programme. The hot springs recovered the vegetation, and there are signs of reintroduced populations breeding in the wild.
This provides important precedents for amphibian conservation in Argentina, and brings a light of hope for this evolutionary distinct and critically endangered species.
Tomás Martínez Aguirre has dedicated is whole career to the conservation of endangered amphibians and reptiles in his country, Argentina. He graduated from the Natural Science School of La Plata National University with a Bachelor’s degree in biology. He is working as a team member of the Wild Plateau Initiative supported by La Plata Museum, La Plata National University, the National Council of Science Research and Technology (CONICET), Felix de Azara Foundation, Amphibian Ark and Earth Foundation.
He focuses his conservation efforts on the protection of one of the most endangered frog species in Argentina, the El Rincon stream frog (Pleurodema somuncurense), which is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This amazing species can be found only in a small fragmented area of barely 4 square kilometres at the thermal waters of the hot springs of Valcheta stream, where it faces several threats that are pushing it towards extinction.
Tomas has been awarded scholarships from the CONICET and the Interuniversity National Council (CIN) for research in ecology and reproductive biology of this poorly known species.
With the support of the Zoological Society of London through the EDGE Fellowship Programme, and Segre Foundation, Tomás is developing adaptative management actions and research to engage the local communities and government in order to improve the situation of this species, and bring it back from the brink of extinction.