This species is known from two-threat defined locations: Mount Mulanje in southern Malawi and Mount Namuli in Mozambique (Broadley 2008). Records from the Zomba Mountains (near to Mulanje, Malawi) still need to be confirmed as the region requires extensive surveying. The species is found as low as 700 m asl in the Ruo Basin, but also occurs higher up on Mount Mulanje, including on the plateau, probably up to at least 2,500 m asl. As the region is poorly surveyed, it is unknown whether this species could occur more widely (Poynton pers. comm. 2012). The extent of occurrence is (EOO) 3,988 km
Habitat and Ecology
This species inhabits montane forest, including high-altitude cedar forest. It is most common in the forest, pine plantations and the grassland adjacent the wooded areas. However, open grassland is considered only marginal habitat and, while the pine plantations are utilized as suitable habitat, they are not considered to be of major ecological importance. As the species colonizes pine plantations, it is assumed to be adaptable to only a moderate degree of disturbance, but in general it is believed to favour undisturbed habitats (Harvey pers. comm. 2012). It lives in leaf-litter in areas of very high rainfall. They sometimes climb trees up to at least two metres from the ground. It is presumed to breed by direct development, though the site of egg deposition is not known.There is a continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat.
It was recorded as locally abundant in 2005 (Blackburn 2008) and 2009 (Conradie et al. 2011).
Mount Mulanje is a UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve, but commercial pine plantations have been planted there and small-scale subsistence farming is encroaching on the reserve's protected grasslands and forests. Logging of the pine plantation and illegal logging of native forest by local people is causing habitat loss, threatening both important and artificial habitats of Arthroleptis francei. The use of fire to manage the grassland, which is a part of the reserve management, is a possible threat to the individuals using edge habitat and the grassland adjacent to the forests. As with other high-altitude species, A. francei may be vulnerable to climate change in as much as the changes would affect average temperature, rainfall, and the extent and viability of its habitat; although the actual effects are unknown.
It occurs in the Mount Mulanje UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, but improved protection of the species' habitat and continued management of this area is essential. Further survey work is required to determine the current population status of this species and more information is needed on the species' taxonomy (in light of the unconfirmed records), natural history and threats (including the effects of climate change). Monitoring of the species is required to establish population trends.
IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group 2014. Arthroleptis francei. In: IUCN 2014