Conserving the Puerto Rican herpetofauna
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With a total area of 8900 km2, Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles. It is divided in three physiographic regions or areas of relief: the mountainous interior, the karst region, and the coastal plains and valleys. The island comprises six ecological life zones: subtropical dry forest, subtropical moist forest, subtropical wet forest, subtropical rain forest, lower montane wet forest and lower montane rain forest. The herpetofauna of Puerto Rico consists of 25 species of amphibians (19 native, six introduced) and 56 species of reptiles (52 native, four introduced). The goal of this paper is to describe some of the present studies directed towards the conservation of Puerto Rican herpetofauna. Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti, E. jasperi and E. eneidae have not been seen or heard since 1976, 1981 and 1990, respectively, and are probably extinct. Since 2000, the potential causes of amphibian declines in Puerto Rico have been studied, and a synergistic interaction between climate change (increased dry periods) and disease (chytridiomycosis) have been proposed as an explanation for the patterns observed. Recovery efforts for Peltophryne lemur include a captivebreeding program, reintroductions island-wide educational outreach, protection and restoration of existing habitat, and the creation of new breeding ponds. Among reptiles, the first conservation efforts to protect Epicrates inornatus were limited to trying to halt collection and hunting. However, current strategies to preserve the boa include gathering basic biological information, habitat conservation, and educational outreach. Recent efforts for the conservation of Trachemys s. stejnegeri combine three research approaches to clarify the status of local populations: a mark-recapture-release study, field monitoring of reproductive activity (i.e., nocturnal patrolling to identify nesting activity), and field assessment of the potential impact of introduced species, particularly identification of predatory species and exotic turtles. Recovery initiatives for Cyclura stejnegeri include management of invasive mammals, a headstart program for hatchling iguanas, and the assessment of the etiology of a condition causing blindness in adult iguanas. A reforestation project aimed at recovering a local herpetofaunal assemblage after disturbances in a limestone valley in northern Puerto Rico is discussed. As population sizes of common colonizers such as Eleutherodactylus and Anolis increased, larger forest-interior and predatory species like Epicrates inornatus, Alsophis portoricensis and Anolis cuvieri followed. Finally, the Mona Island marine turtle monitoring program is discussed and compared to other similar programs in Puerto Rico. As these and other similar conservation efforts provide scientifically based management recommendations, we hope to succeed in conserving the diverse herpetofauna that characterizes Puerto Rico.