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Intel volunteers assist in wetland preservation and restoration of Taiwan’s indigenous aquatic plants on a long-term basis

Focus of this issue: Rhacophorus taipeianus

When summer is coming, many animals and plants are becoming active in reproduction. This issue of our e-newsletter introduces a species of frogs unique to Taiwan: Rhacophorus taipeianus.

Rhacophorus taipeianus (photo courtesy of Chen Dehong)

Rhacophorus taipeianus (photo courtesy of Chen Dehong)

Rhacophorus taipeianus (Taipei Tree Frog) belongs to the Rhacophoridae family and is a species endemic to Taiwan. It is a medium-to small-sized tree frog of four cm to six cm. Its ventral coloration is yellow, with some brown spots, and the abdomen is yellowish white. Inner thighs have some dark brown spotting. The black oval pupil is horizontal and the iris is yellow. Breeding lasts from late fall to winter and tends to be longer in mountain areas, i.e., from October to next March. Breeding on lower elevations lasts from December to next February. According to the findings from a field study for five consecutive years in Yangming Mountain, the frog can live as long as five years and return to the same place for breeding every year. Although breeding lasts as long as half a year, male frogs do not use a pond for breeding at the same time as older male frogs tend to arrive in pond sides, dig holes, and make mating calls earlier, while younger male frogs tend to arrive later. A male frog has an outer vocal sac emitting a low, monotonous “gua” sound with one or two syllables. When in large numbers, their calls turn into rhythmic “gua-gua-gua-gua” sounds with three to four syllables, sometimes ending with “ger-ger-ger” to increase variety and attraction. Male frogs exhibit nesting and mating call behavior; when female frogs approach, male frogs emit mating calls that contain dozens of syllables; when two male frogs meet, they emit a coarse “gah” contact call. Because female frogs prefer the male frogs that are big and sound low, smaller male frogs would sometimes not dig holes or make mating calls. Instead, they would sneak into the holes where other male and female frogs are already mating. Therefore, a female frog mating with several male frogs in a same hole can been witnessed, and this is a strategy for smaller, younger, weaker, or vitally exhausted male frogs to pursue successful reproduction. Eggs are a creamy white color and are laid into white foam masses, and an egg mass has approx. 300 to 400 eggs. Oval-shaped, grayish brown tadpoles are incubated in one to two weeks. The mottled tail is lanceolate-shaped, with a sharply tipped end. Tadpoles stay in the holes where they are incubated and later heavy rains will flush into water. In mountain areas where water temperature is relatively low, tadpoles can remain unchanged for more than three months, and little infant frogs only appear between March and April every year. Little infant frogs are only 1.5 cm long but will grow to 4 cm and become sexually mature after one year. By then, they will return to the water areas when they come from for mating and breeding.

Rhacophorus taipeianus (photo courtesy of Chen Dehong)

Rhacophorus taipeianus (photo courtesy of Chen Dehong)

North Taiwan has the highest number of Rhacophorus taipeianus, whose density is the highest in Keelung. Its diets include ground insects and arthropods. Reproducing in winter, Rhacophorus taipeianus gathers in still water areas such as ponds and aqueducts.

Rhacophorus taipeianus (photo courtesy of Chen Dehong)

Rhacophorus taipeianus (photo courtesy of Chen Dehong)

Rhacophorus taipeianus had been mistaken to be Buergeria japonica until 1976, when Prof. Y.S. Liang and Prof. C.J. Wang of the Department of Animal Science, National Taiwan University, identified it to be a new species, and the Government of the Republic of China included it into protected species of animals.  Rhacophorus taipeianus is the first species of Taiwan frogs discovered and named by local scholars, and is therefore very significant to frog taxonomy.  Because the specimen of Rhacophorus taipeianus were gathered from Shulin (woods) Township, Taipei County, Rhacophorus taipeianus is referred to as Taipei Tree Frog.

 

Current challenge facing Rhacophorus taipeianus: Because Taipei Tree Frog is the only creature named after Taipei and also a protected species of animals existing only in Taiwan.  Most of them live in Zhongqiang Park in Section 5, Xinyi Road, and the nearby Elephant Mountain, but the construction of Xinyi Expressway was catastrophic to these already endangered frogs because a landslide resulting from the construction took place in the most important habitat of four to five protected species of frogs in the park, which is also the only low-elevation breeding area of Taipei Tree Frog.  Moreover, Taipei Tree Frog was once gone for near two years because wetlands were filled during the park reconstruction.  According to Su Shengxiong, a natural science teacher at Taipei Municipal Wuxing Elementary School who has been promoting protection of the frogs in the park for thirteen years, because the landslide was not addressed in time, frog restoration was be difficult.  Nine years ago, the Taipei City Construction Management Office and the Park and Streetlights Office planned to develop an ecological pond of 30 cm deep and 15 square meters in area in a swamp area in the park, so that Taipei Tree Frog could return for breeding.  The plan had several hundred supporters including the Awakening Foundation and students at Wuxing Elementary School as well as their parents, who helped grow wetland plants such as Taiwan Green Taro for near three consecutive years, but Taipei City Government was unhelpful and its Park and Streetlights Office even transformed the wetland where frogs laid eggs into a lawn for easier management of the park.  According to the Park and Streetlights Office, more than ten years ago Zhongqiang Park was designated as the Taipei Tree Frog restoration area, but the restoration area was not expanded when the footpath, child play area, and basket court there were built because nearby residents tend to use these facilities more often.  However, four to five types of aquatic plants will be grown in the original swamp area to cover the bare slope there, while other woodlands will be kept as what they are.  Because many people go to Zhongqiang Park to exercise themselves in the morning, the restoration area will stay close to the hillside in the north of the park to avoid crowds and will not be expanded in the near future.

Current status on restoration: Incessant frog cries can be heard again in Zhongqiang Park now, thanks to the restoration efforts by the park-based Sanli Community Development Association and Taipei City Government for more than one year.

Volunteers from Intel Taiwan visit the aquatic plant sanctuary in Wanli

Volunteers from Intel Taiwan visit the aquatic plant sanctuary in Wanli

For more than five years, volunteers from Intel Taiwan have been visiting the aquatic plant sanctuary in Wanli on the second Saturday of every month, cleaning up footpaths, getting rid of invasive alien plants, and digging ponds and embanking water to develop an environment where aquatic plants can propagate. They welcome everyone to join them to together protect the environment.

About Intel’s volunteer service provided to the Wanli wetland
Since December 2010, volunteers from Intel Taiwan have been visiting the aquatic plant sanctuary in Wanli every month, assisting in wetland development and restoration of Taiwan’s indigenous aquatic plants. The sanctuary is private property but provided by Mr. Chen Dehong (陳德鴻) to help restore Taiwan’s rare aquatic plants. Large machines and tools cannot work on the farmland, where ecological ponds have been developed by manual labor. At the beginning, Intel volunteers relied on hoes and shovels to dig ecological ponds one after another on the terrace field there, and then crystalized soils to prevent water leakages, and used rocks to build pond side slopes and footpaths. Working with the Society of Wildness, Intel volunteers have transformed the abandoned terrace field into ecological ponds and an artificial wetland to accommodate and restore the aquatic plants unique to Taiwan.

After the ecological ponds there gradually took shape, they started to help transplant aquatic plants restored from other wetlands in Taiwan, such as Barringtonia racemose and Cephalanthus naucleoides from Yilan and Salix alba var. Tristis from Nantou. Because different aquatic plants need different environments, for example, insectivorous plants need an infertile environment, Intel volunteers moved sand and flows to the habitat of insectivorous plants. When Salix alba var. Tristis is dormant in winter, it has to be pot-transplanted and then distributed to natural parks or schools for ecology education.

Moreover, the sanctuary needs manpower to keep its environment clean. For example, footpaths need to be weeded and invasive plants in ecological ponds should be removed on a regular basis. After typhoons, pond side slopes should be reinforced.

Since December 2010, there have been near 1,300 person-times of Intel volunteers with more than 6,000 volunteer hours logged. More than 150 kinds of plants have been preserved, amounting to one-third of the indigenous aquatic plants in Taiwan.

P.s. Gratitude to the Rhacophorus taipeianus photos provided by Mr. Chen Dehong)

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