Another restaurant order of frog legs could mean another lost clue to global climate change.
Believe it or not, scientists depend on frogs, toads, and other amphibians to detect changes in the overall environment. These small aquatic creatures have highly permeable skin that easily absorbs particles and pollutants from their surroundings. Typically, amphibians are the first species to disappear from a habitat, which could indicate that harmful environmental factors, such as rising temperatures, are at play.
“Many species are closely tied to water, making them even less adaptable to climate change because there is simply nowhere else to go,” says CI Amphibian Conservation Officer Robin Moore.
And amphibians are disappearing fast. Hungry diners are just part of the problem; dangers also loom in global warming, climate change, and infectious diseases. But the main reason why amphibians are dying off is because they are losing their habitat. This danger alone affects 90 percent of amphibians that are considered threatened.
As a result, conservationists are focusing efforts on protecting the places where these species live. Most amphibian species are concentrated in tropical areas. The steepest population declines have been in Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia.
Conservation International is working with governments and local partners in these regions to make sure countries include critical amphibian habitats when they are designing protected areas. Conservationists have also developed captive breeding programs to save species facing immediate extinction from threats, such as disease, with plans of returning them to the wild once the threat has diminished.
Yet the future for amphibians remains bleak. A 2006 update to the Global Amphibian Assessment – the most comprehensive study of its kind, completed in 2004 – found that a third of amphibians are still threatened. This conclusion shows the situation improved little during the two years between studies.
CI scientists are contributing to a second update of the assessment, currently underway and scheduled for completion by 2009.
“Until we come up with some innovative, groundbreaking solutions, we will continue to watch amphibian species blink out of existence around the world at an alarming rate,” says Moore.