By Maria Fernanda Rodriguez
The Venezuelan biologist Enrique La Marca received this 2020 The George Forster Research Prize, granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany.
The awarded man is an amphibian biologist and retired professor from the University of the Andes (ULA), who currently directs the only ex situ amphibian conservation center in Venezuela, located in Merida state.
La Marca has a Ph.D. in Tropical Ecology and has devoted his academic and professional life to studying amphibians, especially the endemic species that live in the Merida mountain range. For more than 25 years, he was a professor at the ULA, from which he retired in 2012. After retiring from teaching, he worked exclusively in scientific research at the REVA Conservation Center (Rescue of Venezuelan Amphibian Species), which he founded in 2018 and now directs, where he also trains future ULA biologists in the area.
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The award-winning expert has described 43 species of amphibians and reptiles, including three lizards and seven snakes. He also named a new frog genus, Mannophryne, whose species includes the Socopo toad (named after a town in the Venezuelan Andes), the Mannophryne lamarcai, considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Professor La Marca is currently a member of the Amphibian Specialist Group and the IUCN Species Survival Commission. Previously, he was part of the Neotropical Amphibian Research and Analysis Network (RANA).
In addition to his fieldwork, La Marca is the author of seven books and more than 260 scientific articles, including the only taxonomic, biogeographic and bibliographic catalog of Venezuelan frogs. For ten years, he edited the journal Herpetotropicos (2004-2014), which became internationally renowned. In 2004 he created the Biogeos Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) dedicated to the study of biological diversity in Venezuela.
Despite the crisis that the country is experiencing and the difficulties added this year by the COVID-19 pandemic, La Marca and its REVA team have not stopped working. During the national quarantine, they have found specimens of two species of frogs in danger of extinction, which had not been seen for several years. They have also won funding for the development of their research.
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, founded in 1953, awards the Georg Forster Prize each year to up to six outstanding researchers from developing countries. In some cases, such as Enrique La Marca’s, the award includes the possibility of spending between six and 12 months in Germany developing a research project with the support of colleagues from that country.