The maintenance of biodiversity is the main objective of the global conservation strategies. Endemic taxa such as Pelobates varaldii from Morocco are particularly important because they are often very sensitive to habitat modifications. Scientific research on the natural history of species is the starting point for correct management and conservation actions for fauna and habitats. Pelobates varaldii is an endemic Moroccan species with a small distribution range, confined to the coastal lowlands of western Morocco. The species is currently listed as endangered (B2ab(iii)) on the IUCN red list assessment because its Area of Occupancy is ʺprobablyʺ less than 500km2, its distribution is severely fragmented, and there is a continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat in Morocco. At present, the species does not occur in any protected area. My first research years (2008-2010) confirm that Pelobates varaldii is a highly threatened species and that it’s current status as an endangered species is justified. The results indicate that Pelobates varaldii is depending on sandy and forested (e.g. Quercus suber) areas with many temporary ponds present and these areas are disappearing rapidly due to urbanisation, logging, agriculture and development projects.
Other threats to Pelobates varaldii include; intensification of livestock pasturing, including the pollution of stagnant waters with livestock droppings. Additionally, arable agriculture may be leading to the loss or disturbance of the sandy substrate soil habitat, which the species is strongly associated with. Populations of the species are now often restricted to temporary ponds, and those remaining in permanent water bodies are being eliminated through the presence of predatory fishes (Gambusia sp.). Especially the detection of the presence of the American crayfish Procambarus (=Ortmannicus)lophotus? by David Donaire near Larache in December 2008 can cause a major threat to Pelobates varaldii and other species in the future. There is hitherto very little known about the species and data on population demography, distribution and general ecology is incomplete or missing. Especially, it is not known how fragmentation influences the gene flow and dispersal among populations and if different genetic lineages exist within the range of the species. Collecting data on ecology, population demography, threats, distribution, phylogeography and the effects of fragmentation on gene flow and dispersal is therefore urgently needed to make conservation actions possible for this species.
This project is partially funded by a conservation grant of the Societas Europaea Herpetologica (2010)
Main research goals
- Collecting data on distribution in the entire distribution range
- Mapping of the Mamora cork oak forest and surroundings to analyse the effects of pond connectivity and habitat fragmentation on dispersal using remote sensing and GIS techniques.
- Assess the effects of fragmentation on gene flow among populations using microsatellites (Msat)
- Analyse the effects of pollutants, critical water chemistry levels and water properties on larvae performance and survival
- Skeletochronology research to increase the knowledge on population demography and to facilitate age determination for future monitoring programs.
- Range wide phylogeography study using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
- Identification and designation of protected areas within the distribution
- Collection of larvae/adults for a captive breeding initiative in cooperation with Amphibian Ark, Copenhagen Zoo and the University of Marrakech.
- Breeding site characteristics and spatial distribution of larvae within Mamora forest.
- Writing of a management plan and setting up a conservation strategy.
- Range wide chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) assessment
Philippe Geniez (CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier, France), El Hassan El Mouden (Université Cadi Ayyad, Laboratoire Biodiversité et Dynamique des Ecosystèmes, Marrakech, Morocco), Michael Veith (University of Trier, Germany), Diederik Dingemans (University of Applied Sciences van Hall-Larenstein, the Netherlands), Fabio Guarino (Università di Napoli Federico II, Napoli, Italy), Angelica Crottini (Institute of Zoology, University of Braunschweig, Germany), Jaime Bosch (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain), Eric van der Pol, David Donaire, Richard Gibson (Amphibian Ark), Bengt Holst (Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark).
de Pous, P., Beukema, W., Dingemans, D., Donaire, D., Geniez, P. and El Mouden, H. (In press) Distribution review, habitat suitability and conservation of the endangered and endemic Moroccan spadefoot toad (Pelobates varaldii). Basic and applied Herpetology
Guarino, F.M, de Pous, P.E., Crottini, A., Mezzasalma, M., Andreone, F. (2011) Age structure and growth in a reproductive population of Pelobates varaldii (Anura, Pelobatidae) from northwestern Morocco. Amphibia-Reptilia 32: 550-556