In January, Ubiquitome announced the finalists of the Freedom For You grants program. The program was designed to provide support for remote qPCR projects, with each winner receiving a Freedom4 device. The ten selected finalists are receiving support from Ubiquitome in the form of Freedom4 qPCR reagents and consumables, project design consultation, and technical support, including wet lab processing. Three grant winners will receive a Freedom4 gold standard qPCR mobile device worth USD$25,000.
One of the selected finalists is Plymouth University lecturer Robert Puschendorf for his behavioural studies of amphibians in the forests of Costa Rica.
Dr Puschendorf is working on frogs in the forests of the Guanacaste national park, studying the behaviour of chytrid affected species versus unaffected species, a disease known as chytridiomycosis that has wiped out amphibian species worldwide. He has been researching frogs nearly his entire life as a career developed out of a childhood backyard obsession.
He started working on chytridiomycosis and its effect on tropical amphibians in 2000 and has been completing most of his research in Costa Rica and Australia. His research requires frogs to be captured, tested and then released once samples have been through PCR analysis back in the lab in the UK. This is a lengthy process and can manipulate the results of the study by influencing the general behaviour of the frogs after they have been in captivity for so long. The other issue he is facing is the tightening of laws dealing with bioprospecting in Latin America, making it extremely difficult to quickly send samples out of the country. This means that labs must somehow be sourced inside Costa Rica. This still means the samples require a lengthy trip to the main capital San Jose, adding extra time away from field sites.
His focus is now on incorporating mobile molecular testing into his studies as a means of overcoming these barriers to gain reliable, useful data. This would allow for onsite testing of samples, meaning reduced time frogs are held in captivity and eliminating the need to send samples outside of the country.
The forests of Costa Rica, particularly the Guanacaste national park, are home to over 40 species of amphibians. The chytrid fungus has depleted whole species of amphibians over the past few decades, causing some to be completely wiped out. However, recently some of these species are beginning to rejuvenate with numbers increasing again in the wild. This has prompted behavioural studies to be conducted, such as Dr Puschendorf’s, to understand the disease and what is causing these amphibian numbers to grow again.
The forests of Costa Rica are just one area where frog species are closely followed. Australia and parts of Europe are also areas focused on by researchers with similar findings for amphibian conditions and trends being reported. Results from Dr Puschendorf’s studies will have an impact on work in these other areas, particularly through the use of mobile molecular testing.
Dr Puschendorf has contributed to dozens of publications across ecology and conservation biology topics with his most recent discussing observations and results from his Costa Rican studies on amphibians:
Zumbado-Ulate, H., Bolaños, F., Gutiérrez-Espeleta, G., Puschendorf, R. (2014) Extremely Low Prevalence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Frog Populations from Neotropical Dry Forest of Costa Rica Supports the Existence of a Climatic Refuge from Disease. Ecohealth.
The use of a mobile PCR device would excellerate Dr Puschendorf’s study of amphibian species in the Costa Rican forests to understand how chytrid fungus is killing these animals and also why for some populations numbers are now recovering. A model for mobile testing developed through Dr Puschendorf’s study could help other conservation efforts around the world to protect both threatened plants and wildlife.
For more information on Dr Puschendorf research click here or to view a full list of the finalists visit our website www.ubiquitomebio.com.