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Size isn’t Everything: Botsford’s Leaf-litter Frog

By on February 14, 2019 in News, EDGE Amphibians

Nguyen Thanh Luan is one of our EDGE Fellows working in Vietnam to conserve the critically endangered Botsford’s leaf-litter frog (Leptolalax botsfordi). Through his EDGE Fellowship he is hoping to gain a better understanding of the species’ distribution, population size and ecology.

“I suddenly saw a small, brown and green spotted frog sitting on a rock near a stream. At that moment, my heart was beating fast and happiness flooded my body. “Ben! A Leptolalax, A Leptolalax“, I yelled.”

That’s how Luan first found his EDGE species the Botsford’s leaf-litter frog (Leptolalax botsfordi). It’s only known to occur in a single stream on Mount Fansipan between 2,795 and 2,815 m above sea level in Vietnam. It’s also rather unique as it diverged as a new species from its genus Leptolalax around 12.5 million years ago. This means that Luan’s work to understand its ecology, distribution, population abundance and population trends is vital to ensure appropriate conservation decisions are made to secure the species’ future survival.

Leptolalax botfordi, the first individual Luan saw on the first EDGE project trip | © Luan Nguyen

The frog, although being only around 3cm in size, is amazingly hardy as Luan explains:

“I love the way this species stays on leaves near waterfalls even under windy and cold conditions at night. It certainly makes this frog stronger than its size!”

The first six months of Luan’s Fellowship have certainly kept him busy. He’s learnt a huge range of skills; from how to collect field data independently to how to deal with the high elevation conditions of his study sites on the mountainside. On top of that, he has built strong relationships with the local managers and National Park staff who have been an important source of support during his project.

Stream at 2800m above sea level on Fansipan where the frog is found during the rainy season |© Luan Nguyen

Remarking on how much he’s learnt, Luan is grateful for the opportunities his fieldwork has given him:

“My Fellowship has increased my knowledge on my EDGE species, its distribution, behaviour, and the risks it faces from tourism. Working on Mount Fansipan has also given me newfound knowledge on the amphibians found in the Hoang Lien Mountain Range. There are now many additional species on my “database” that help me understand the diversity of amphibians in Vietnam.”

When collecting data on the mountainside, things can get tricky even for Luan:

“It is very difficult to access the field sites, especially when trying to find the new areas where we know the frog is. Throughout my data collection period it was raining most time and was extremely cold, making it even harder to find my EDGE species in the wild.”

Despite the challenging conditions Luan still finds inspiration:

“I have never forgotten that emotional moment [when I first saw my EDGE species]. Seven field trips have come and gone since but on every trip, I come back to the same place where I found the first one, to look back my memory, hoping I can find it again.”

Find out more about Luan’s EDGE species and his EDGE Fellowship project.