Students recognise golden tree frog in a genus of its own

frog in Trinidad

Students' expeditions have concentrated on researching frogs

Research by students from Glasgow University’s Exploration Society using DNA sequencing has shown that the critically-endangered golden tree frog found in Trinidad is not closely related to other frog species, and belongs in a genus of its own.

The golden tree frog exists only at the tops of Trinidad’s two highest mountains, El Tucuche and Cerro del Aripo. It lives in the giant bromeliad Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora and has no call, making population estimates difficult. Glasgow University students estimated the Tucuche population at about 20,000 in the mid 1990s, but there is evidence of population decline since then.

The importance of this species has been enhanced by the recognition that it belongs in a genus on its own. Formerly named Phyllodytes auratus with several relatives in South America, the frog has now been re-named Phytotriades (Phyto = plant; triades = trinity). IUCN lists the golden tree frog as Trinidad’s only critically endangered frog species.

Research experience for students

Trinidad and Tobago expeditions have contributed to the work of four PhD theses, two Masters theses and a large number of final year undergraduate dissertations

Glasgow University’s Exploration Society (GU ExSoc) has existed since the 1920s and has always been a collaboration between staff and students. Since the mid 1990s GU ExSoc has sponsored 6-8 expeditions annually, most of them involving around a dozen students, providing overseas research experience, mostly in biodiversity and conservation, for a very large number of undergraduates and some postgraduates too.

Building continuity

Like Operation Wallacea, GU ExSoc recognises the value of continuity and building on earlier experience: for example, including this year there have been 17 GU ExSoc expeditions to Trinidad and 10 to Tobago. Continuity helps build trust and partnership with local people; for example, all our marine turtle nest-monitoring work has been in collaboration with Trinidad and Tobago NGOs.

GU ExSoc expeditions are not aimed specifically at allowing individual students to carry out personal research, but the team-working approach of an expedition can allow such research to be done, and Trinidad and Tobago expeditions have contributed to the work of four PhD theses, two Masters theses and a large number of final year undergraduate dissertations.

Published work

Much of the research done relates to the research interests of staff members and this helps the work to generate publications in international peer-reviewed journals. Trinidad and Tobago expeditions have led to over 40 such publications so far, with 26 students becoming co-authors of their first scientific papers.

Glasgow Trinidad and Tobago expeditions have concentrated on frogs and turtles, but have also investigated bats, coral reef health, endangered birds and mammals, insects, snails: indeed, just about everything that moves. Other highlights include:

  • establishing the importance of the remoter Trinidad north coast beaches for nesting marine turtles;
  • discovering a new species of fly that attacks frog foam nests; and
  • proving that Trinidad’s stream frog is an endemic species.

However, just as important as the scientific advances made are the opportunities these expeditions have provided for students’ personal development: many have now gone on to careers in biodiversity and conservation.

GU ExSoc Trinidad expedition reports are available at our website.

Written by

  • , Professor of Zoological Education, Glasgow University
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3 Responses to “Students recognise golden tree frog in a genus of its own”

  1. Can anyone provide an authoritative source that confirms the change in genus name from Phyllodytes to Phytotriades?

  2. The new name is published in Jowers,M.J.(2008) The golden tree frog of Trinidad; phylogenetic and conservation status.Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment 43, 181-8.The new name is in the abstract as well as the full text, but not the title.

  3. Much appreciated, Professor.

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