On Friday, we attempt a trip to the Atlantic site again, and we are successful this time! We drive to a site just outside the city of Colon, and the Caribbean influence of this area is hard to miss. This is tropical beach life at its finest. You can see coral mixed in with rock on the forest floor (photo, right).
Angie has chosen this site because her Smithsonian collaborator Roberto Ibanez said it is good frog habitat—he visited back in the 1990s and left a flag to mark the spot.
We use Angie’s GPS to attempt to navigate to that spot, but a lot has changed in the past few decades. We are unable to find the flag and also very few frog species. Angie and Daniel find several slightly moist ravines that may have once been home to streams for frogs to live in, but they are nearly dry and it’s hard to tell how long they have been.
On Saturday, we visit a final site—Plantation Road in Soberania National Park—which is just outside of Gamboa. Angie had previously determined that this was a good site and she wants to mark it out for her visit in May, when she will swab frogs here. We measure out 200 meters of a stream beside the trail, placing flags at each 10 meter mark.
It is important to be precise when sampling in the field, and Angie keeps detailed records about each field site, such as environmental conditions and morphological details of the frog—its weight, size, life stage, species and distinguishing characteristics. Angie will then take a swab that will provide information on bacterial makeup and of course whether or not it tests positive for chytrid fungus.
Comparing this sort of detailed data over significant periods of time and seasons will yield the sort of insight that conservationists need to make smart decisions that lead toward successful frog conservation.
Angie will be back in May (sadly, I will not!) to continue to set up her sites and begin the long process of repeated sampling. With data from 4-5 sites in Panama, she will paint a larger picture of the frog disease epidemic in the lowlands.
Towards the end of marking the sampling area off Planation Road, Daniel and Angie notice a small group of tadpoles just removed from the stream—they are in a dry spot that the stream is barely skirting. They will ultimately die if they don’t receive water.
“Should we help them?” Angie wonders aloud.
And then, they are both on their knees scooping the soil away so that the stream floods into the tiny tadpole nursery and their long tails begin to flick and flutter like fire flames, refreshed by the water.
“There you go guys!” Daniel says.
“You are free!” Angie exclaims.
I can’t help but smile to myself. This is serious work, and Daniel and Angie are dedicated scientists who work long, hard hours and agonize over details in order to get the facts straight. But, at heart, they are also conservationists— and two people who really, really love frogs.