Laos warty newt (or Laotriton laoensis), is a species of salamander in the family Salamandridae. This newt is classified as Paramesotriton laoensis. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and rivers.
The species is known only from the mountains of northern Lao People's Democratic Republic (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. In 2013, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Lao program team conducted additional surveys for the species. 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 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. 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 and restricted to high elevations, there is unlikely to be significant gene flow between subpopulations. 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.
Habitat and Ecology:
This species inhabits pools within the headwaters of streams. 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). In the wild, larvae have been found in February and April.
Use and Trade:
Laotriton laoensis is in high demand for the international pet trade and lesser demand for medicine and food. 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. 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. There is also evidence that the demand for the species for medicinal purposes has increased (Wildlife Conservation Society Laos, unpubl. data).
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, 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.
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).
According to many scientists, 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.
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.