Explore the real science behind Team WILD’s reforestation mission to collect mountain chickens uninfected with the chytrid fungus.
Why do Root and Flora, our Team WILD science superheroes, need to collect uninfected mountain chickens to take to a bio-secure breeding facility?
The Critically Endangered mountain chicken is one of the world’s most threatened species of frog. Also one of the largest frogs in the world, growing up to remarkable lengths of 21 centimetres, this curious species is the top endemic predator on its island home of Montserrat and Dominica.
Mountain chicken populations have undergone catastrophic declines, estimated at around 80 percent over the past 10 years. The mountain chicken has fallen victim to habitat loss, invasive species, hunting by humans, volcanic activity and the arrival of the deadly chytrid fungus. The species’ range is now restricted on Dominica to around 25 km² and to about 20 km² on Montserrat.
The chytrid fungus was first identified in Dominica in 2002. The disease spread rapidly, resulting in an 80 percent population decline in mountain chickens within the first two years. The first confirmed cases on Montserrat were discovered in February 2009, with similar mortality rates to those witnessed on Dominica with 80-90 percent of individuals dying. Although the original source of the fungus remains unknown, it is thought that it was brought onto the islands via frogs stowed away on ships.
Saving the mountain chicken - a case study
The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme was established to enable the restoration of mountain chicken populations in Montserrat and Dominica. A collaboration between European conservation institutions, including Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Zoological Society London and North of England Zoological Society (Chester Zoo), and the governments of Montserrat and Dominica, the recovery programme aims to save the unusual mountain chicken from extinction.
Working together, the organisations and their team of dedicated scientists lead conservation efforts for each island on the ground, as well as managing a captive breeding and reintroduction programme. In addition, the mountain chicken recovery programme carries out critical research into the ecology and management of the chytrid fungus, contributing to the global conservation of the world’s amphibian species.
Following the identification of the chytrid fungus on Montserrat in 2009, a rescue mission collected 50 frogs from the wild and entered them into a bio-secure captive breeding programme, transporting individuals to partner institutions such as Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Due to the work of dedicated herpetologists (amphibian specialists), the species has successfully bred in captivity, with these captive populations forming the basis of a safety-net population should the species become extinct in the wild.
In January 2012, a healthy population of 33 mountain chickens was released back into the forests of Montserrat. The frogs were released with electronic tags to help scientists’ track their movements and healthy individuals are still being found, enabling scientists to collect location data and skins swabs. Although some of the released frogs have been found to be infected with the chytrid fungus, this could help the scientists to better understand the disease that is decimating amphibian populations worldwide.
Read more about mountain chicken reintroductions on the ARKive blog.
Currently, a combination of captive breeding, re-introduction, field study and public education awareness and outreach programmes seems to be the best hope for the survival of the mountain chicken.
Help Team WILD save the mountain chicken