Croaks in the night

Rain forest frog we found in a pitfall trap in Bolivia

Rain forest frog we found in a pitfall trap in Bolivia

Where I am in Louisiana, spring is already in full swing- the tulip trees are blooming, song birds are loudly proclaiming their territories, and spotted salamander egg masses can be found in standing bodies of water. When some friends went looking for amphibians a week ago, they found lots of croaking frogs. Over the last few weeks, I feel like the plight of frogs around the world keeps appearing in front of me- in things I read, in classes, in discussions, frogs seem to be trying to get my attention. And it seems like a seasonally-timely topic since, over the next few months, many of you will be in the midst of spring amphibian migrations.

My knowledge of frog and toad is ecology is pretty basic, and I have a general sense of the problems they are facing around the world. I know that frog populations are declining in a wide variety of places, and scientists aren’t sure if there is one large pattern or several factors in different locations. I’ve heard of fungal pathogens, chemical toxins, and habitat loss- because frogs, and other amphibians, have such permeable skins, they may be more sensitive to pollutants and pathogens in the environment, making them early-warning signals for ecosystem problems. There is additional concern about frog populations because diversity is high in tropical areas and current rates of habitat conversion may outpace our ability to identify all species before they disappear.

Amphibians are pretty amazing animals, and, in some ways, they represent the evolutionary qualities needed for life to colonize land. They also tend to be less visible than other forms of terrestrial life because they are smaller and often are camouflaged, so I think that sometimes we don’t think about their presence and contributions to the ecosystems around us; but they have multiple roles in the environment, and the decline in worldwide frog populations may serve as a huge alarm bell for environmental problems that we may not even be monitoring yet.

So I think it’s very important to pay attention to frog, toad, and other amphibian populations around us, but I’m not quite sure what most to be concerned about or how local trends are connected. I’m also not sure how best to support amphibian populations, so this month I’m going to focus on frogs and their kin. I’ll probably jump from place to place, but hopefully I’ll find some overarching trends and ways to get involved.

Posted February 3, 2013 by Mirka Zapletal in Amphibians

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