This species is known only from the Winterberg and Amathole Mountains centred around Hogsback, between Katberg and Keiskammahoek, in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, between 1,400–1,800 m Asl. It has not been recorded in Winterberg or Katburg since the 1970–80s, and it is unknown whether it is still present in those areas (J. Tarrant and A. Rebelo pers. comm. August 2016). Its EOO is 99 km2.
Habitat and Ecology
This species lays strings of up to 200 eggs in shallow temporary pools and seepages in high-altitude moist grasslands, and is absent from forests and plantations (although occurs on the edges thereof). Adults shelter under logs and rocks during the breeding season close to breeding puddles (September–December), but may move to higher elevations in the non-breeding period. Males of the species call only sporadically. Tadpoles are free living and metamorphosis takes approximately eight weeks before juveniles leave the aquatic environment (B. Rogers pers. comm. November 2015).
It appears to be genuinely rare. Since its description in 1925, it has been recorded approximately 25 times (Tarrant and Cunningham 2011). There are historical accounts which report large congregations of breeding adults, but this kind of activity has not been recorded since the 1980s. The species was not seen at all between 1998 and 2011 (despite repeated survey attempts during that period – 10 visits to suitable sites over 11 years between 1998–2009) but, between 2011–2015, seven adults and signs of breeding were recorded in the area of Hogsback, Amathole Forestry areas around Geika's Kop and Elandsberg (Tarrant and Cunningham 2011, Conradie and Tarrant 2011, J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). It has not been detected at Winterberg since the 1970s and Katberg since 1981, with subsequent surveys in August 2010 (Katberg), September 2011 (Katberg), October 2012 (Winterberg) and March 2015 (Katberg) failing to record it (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). Quick surveys conducted at Katberg and Hogsback in April 2016 also did not detect the species (A. Rebelo pers. comm. August 2016). Taking this into account, the species could be locally extinct in Katberg and Winterberg; however, there has not been a huge concerted effort in surveying the western part of its range (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016) and further surveys are warranted.
The population of this species is considered to be severely fragmented based on historical data as no one site holds >50% of individuals and the distances between subpopulations are considered to be too great for dispersal within one generation. Due to ongoing decline in the extent and quality of habitat, the population is suspected to be decreasing.
The main threats is the loss and degradation of grassland and seepage habitats caused primarily by silviculture, which currently affects approximately 20% of the distribution (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). Pinus species are the dominant plantation species in the Great Winterberg-Amathole region, with much of the current plantation land occupying previous grassland habitat which is the primary habitat for this species (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). The spread of alien plants, poor management of farmland and rangelands (overgrazing and trampling), drainage of seepage areas and unsustainable burning practices also results in degraded grasslands and may be responsible for disappearances from remaining appropriate sites in the last 11 years.
A comprehensive, overarching conservation plan has been developed and shared with relevant role players to implement actions as well as specific management recommendations to the local forestry company Amathole Forestry. These recommendations, including the removal of Pinus saplings from a known breeding area, are being implemented (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). Key sites at which subpopulations have been recently detected have been prioritised for improved management and habitat protection, and the ex-situ rescue/supplementation role for which this species was prioritised in 2008 and this is also being investigated. The Great Winterberg-Amathole area has been prioritised for Protected Area expansion and habitat protection through Biodiversity Stewardship on properties on which the species is being investigated (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016).
The conservation plan above needs to be implemented and will help guide conservation interventions and research. Additional priority sites need to be identified and the best mechanisms to protect these sites implemented (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). If the specific niche habitat requirements of this species can be determined, this may lead to restoration of appropriate habitat.
The key research action required is to refine survey methods for detecting this species, to determine its phenology and improve understanding of threats in order to better understand reasons for the species' disappearance (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). An improved understanding of population size and population dynamics is also required. Research on ecology and life history will enable further determination of threats to the species and identification of possible conservation actions (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016). Other priorities are to identify management units, assess perceived threats and improve monitoring methods (J. Tarrant pers. comm. August 2016).
Red List Status
Critically Endangered (CR)
Listed as Critically Endangered because its extent of occurrence (EOO) is 98 km2, its population is severely fragmented, and there is ongoing decline in the extent and quality of habitat, its EOO and area of occupancy (AOO).
IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group & South African Frog Re-assessment Group (SA-FRoG) 2017. Vandijkophrynus amatolicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T3176A77163458. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T3176A77163458.en .Downloaded on 19 February 2019