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Rare Frogs and Bat Feces: Conservation is Vital For Preventing Widespread Extinctions

Oct 25, 2015 09:47 PM EDT

The survival of a rare frog species known as the Caucasian parsley frog (Pelodytes punctatus) depends on the nutritional value of bat guano, a recent study revealed. Researchers from the University of Tennessee (UT), studied populations of this elusive frog species in remote limestone caves of densely forested mountains near Russia and the Republic of Georgia. They found that when the frogs seek shelter in the summer, they prefer to co-exist with bats that essentially provide them with a buffet of insects breeding in their feces. 

"This is yet another study showing how critically important bats are for the environment," Vladimir Dinets, UT research assistant professor of psychology, said in a news release. "Their role is not limited to controlling agricultural pests; entire cave ecosystems with dozens of species depend on bats for survival, and many of these species are yet to be discovered."

That said, some widely depended-upon bats are in trouble, Dinets explained in the release. Human-introduced white-nose syndrome (WNS), is threatening many populations of the vital species in North America. If bats are no longer able to provide food, pest control, and other means of survival for other species, there could be a cascade of extinctions and widespread ecosystem destabilization.

WNS is an emergent disease found in hibernating bats that has rapidly spread throughout the U.S. The disease is named for the white fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of insect-eating bats. WNS is specifically a problem for North American bats that have not yet adapted to the disease or found a way to fight off an infection.

The Caucasian parsley frogs are also of high conservation concern. They are considered "Near Threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species because of widespread habitat loss. The small frogs prefer to live in temperate forests, temperate shrubland, rivers, intermittent rivers, freshwater marshes, intermittent freshwater marshes, or freshwater springs.

"Knowing more about its habitat preferences is important for protecting the best habitat and for future reintroduction efforts," Dinets noted in the release, and went on to add that some breeding efforts to boost struggling populations have been made.

Their study, recently published in the Herpetological Bulletin, highlights the importance of species conservation and the ecological importance of even the rarest species. 

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