One of the greatest challenges of effective conservation measures is the correct identification of sites where rare and elusive organisms reside. The recently rediscovered Hula painted frog (Latonia nigriventer) has not been seen for many decades and was therefore categorized extinct. Since its rediscovery in 2011, individuals from the critically endangered species have been found, with great effort, only in four restricted sites. We applied the environmental DNA (eDNA) approach to search for new populations of the Hula painted frog in suitable aquatic habitats. We further used the eDNA data to classify the landscape factors associated with the species distribution and to predict its suitable habitats. We sampled 52 aquatic sites in the Hula Valley during the spring of 2015 and 2016 and amplified the samples with a species-specific qPCR assay. DNA of the Hula painted frog was detected in 22 of the sites, all of which clustered within three main areas. A boosting classification model showed that soil type, vegetation cover and the current and former habitats are all key predictors of the frog's current distribution. Intriguingly, the habitat suitability models reveal a high affinity of the species to its long-lost habitat of the historical wetlands. Our findings encourage a series of informed searches for new populations of this threatened frog and provide guidance for future conservation management programmes. In the era of global conservation crisis of amphibians, developing the eDNA approach, a reliable detection method for many critically endangered and elusive amphibians, is of particular importance.
- conservation genetics
- genetic monitoring
- species distribution modelling