Laotriton laoensis


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Laotriton laoensis
Species Authority: (Stuart & Papenfuss, 2002)
Paramesotriton laoensis Stuart & Papenfuss, 2002

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(iii,v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-10-16
Assessor(s): IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group
Reviewer(s): Stuart, S.N.
Contributor(s): Phimmachak, S. & Stuart, B.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Cutajar, T. & Rowley, J. L.
Listed as Endangered due to an estimated extent of occurrence of only 4,560 km2, continuing declines in habitat quality and the number of mature individuals, and an extremely restricted population with a single threat-defined location.
2004 Data Deficient

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The species is known only from the mountains of northern Lao PDR. To date, it has been reported in only four districts: Xaysomboun District, Vientiane Province, Phoukhout and Pek Districts, Xiengkhouang Province, and Phoukhoun District, Louangphabang Province (Phimmachak et al. 2012, Chunco et al. 2013). In 2013, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Lao program team conducted additional surveys for the species. These surveys failed to detect the species in Nam Et-Phou Louey National and Phou Khao Khouay Protected Area and determined that it was unfamiliar to local people in Mork Mai and Thathom District, Xiengkhouang Province, in eastern Lao PDR near the Viet Nam border. These surveys provide further evidence that the species may not occur further east of where it currently known, may not occur in Viet Nam, and may be truly endemic to Lao PDR. The species is known from 1,160 to 1,430 m asl. The extent of occurrence is approximately 4,560 km2, as determined using range as a proxy, and constitutes a single threat-defined location.
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The species appears locally abundant, with 1,200 individuals estimated to occur in 4.7 km of stream in an area thought to have the highest abundance of the species (Phimmachak et al. 2012). The species is likely to occur in relatively isolated sub-populations, as it only occurs in pools at the headwaters of streams. As they are mostly aquatic (but see evidence of overland dispersal by adults in Phimmachak et al. 2012) and restricted to high elevations, there is unlikely to be significant gene flow between sub-populations. Due to harvesting, and the loss and degradation of habitat it is estimated that there has been at least a 50% decline in population of the species in the last 10 years (S. Phimmachak and B. L. Stuart pers. comm.).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species inhabits pools within the headwaters of streams (1–10 m in width and 0.2–0.7 m in depth). These streams flow through a variety of disturbed and undisturbed habitats, including evergreen forest, shrubs, grassland, and rice fields. The habitat of disturbed sections of its range is undergoing continuous degradation. The breeding season occurs in the coolest season (November to February). Females deposit their eggs between two dead leaves or folded within leaf packs on the bottom of the stream pool. Within a pool, multiple females oviposit on leaves in the same leaf pack. In the wild, larvae have been found in February and April. Laotriton laoensis has a terrestrial eft stage that has been observed in August sheltering close to the stream in a group under dead grass approximately 2 m from the stream in a treeless area at the edge of a rice field.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Laotriton laoensis is in high demand for the international pet trade and lesser demand for medicine and food (Phimmachak et al. 2012). Interviews conducted by Phimmachak et al. 2012 consistently reported that, historically, commerce in L. laoensis consisted of only limited local trade for medicinal or food purposes, but that demand for the species had dramatically increased in very recent years. For example, in April 2008, villages in Phoukout District, Xiengkhouang Province, reported selling 300–400 individuals of L. laoensis per year to visiting European or Japanese collectors for 5,000– 15,000 kip (US$0.60–$1.76) each. In June 2009, residents of Ban Chim in Phoukoun District, Luangphabang Province, reported selling a very large number ("hundreds") of L. laoensis in January 2009 to a visiting Chinese collector for 30,000 kip (US$3.53) per kg. Commercial networks have also become established in very recent years in response to demands for the species, and interviewees reported that Lao wildlife traders from Vientiane and Bolikhamxay provinces also had been placing orders with them to collect it (Phimmachak et al. 2012). There is also evidence that the demand for the species for medicinal purposes has increased, as interviews in May 2013 reported a Vietnamese trader with hundreds of dry L. laoensis in Xaysomboun district in 2011 (Wildlife Conservation Society Laos, unpubl. data).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Its initial description (as Paramesotriton laoensis) in 2002 (Stuart and Papenfuss 2002) inadvertently brought the species and its localities to the attention of commercial traders, leading to ongoing unsustainable harvest and subsequent use in the international pet trade in Germany and Japan and, to a lesser extent, in traditional medicines (Stuart et al. 2006). Thus the primary threat to this species is over-harvesting, to which its biology (behaviour and morphology) makes it extremely vulnerable. As it is active during the day, swimming on the bottom of shallow pools in clear water (Stuart and Papenfuss 2002, Phimmachak et al. 2012), and is brightly coloured dorsally, it is harvested quickly, easily, and in large numbers. It is possible that all mature individuals could be harvested from a site in a few days, and this is why they are sold sometimes as "hundreds" of individuals or by the kilogram (S. Phimmachak & B. L. Stuart pers. comm. October 2013). New roads being constructed within the known range of the species also facilitate harvesting. Habitat loss and modification are also likely to threaten the species. Although the species is likely to be tolerant of some human modification of the surrounding habitat, it would probably suffer from severe changes in stream water quality or flow and extensive burning in grasslands adjacent to streams (where efts occur) (Phimmachak et al. 2012).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Species distribution modelling revealed that the species' range might narrowly overlap with a few protected areas, but the species has not yet been found in a protected area. If it does occur in a protected area, it probably barely occurs in one (Chunco et al. 2013). Because suitable habitat is currently almost entirely unprotected, a new reserve should be established and managed in core habitat to provide protection from harvesting and habitat degradation (Chunco et al. 2013). Also recommended are ex situ conservation measures (specifically conservation breeding), as well as international laws against trade and the establishment of public awareness campaigns. In 2008, the species was nationally listed (as Paramesotriton laoensis) as a Category I species in the Lao Wildlife and Aquatic [Animal] Law, thereby prohibiting all commercial trade in the species (food, medicine, and pets).

Continued research is needed on the species' population status, life history and ecology, harvest rates, other threats to the species, and monitoring of its population trend is required.

Citation: IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group 2014. Laotriton laoensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. <>. Downloaded on 22 July 2014.
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