Giving frogs a leg up

What combination of threats faces this tropical amphibian?

In some ways, the picture of amphibian survival I’ve painted over the past few weeks is pretty grim: we know that species are disappearing around the world, in some cases faster than we can identify them; we know that disease is playing a role, as well as pollution and a changing climate; and we know that environmental degradation is a key issue. When you add these things together, it may seem like frogs and other amphibians are on a permanent downward slope.

But at the same time, scientists have learned that some species are more resilient to habitat degradation or pollution than others, that there are easy ways to make available habitat more suitable for specialist species, and that cooperative efforts to protect threatened species can have positive results. Over the last week, as I’ve searched for ways to help frogs through everyday actions, I’ve learned that there are many, many people who care about frog conservation, and that alone is a very positive thing.

What can we do as individuals? Quite a lot really, which is a comforting thought.

On your computer, one of the most important things is letting policy-makers know that amphibian protection is important to you. There are many organizations developing petitions that range from protecting a specific wetland area to banning harmful chemicals. Check out Save The Frogs to get some ideas and even sign a few.

In your backyard, there are many options for creating a more frog-friendly environment:

  • Create an oasis for frogdom by having a frog pond- Australia’s RANA organization has guidelines on how best to meet amphibian needs for artificial bodies of water.
  • Reduce your use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers- remember that every time it rains, things in your soil get moved around and even washed away- all of those pollutants in the water supply have an impact on the health of the environment as a whole and water-dwelling species in particular- for tips on reducing use of chemicals, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has a pamphlet.
  • Cut back on water use- those gallons running through your tap are often removed from natural water systems, which certainly doesn’t do the frogs any favors.

Farther afield, you can participate directly in frog conservation efforts:

  • Help migrating amphibians get safely to their breeding sites- many are killed each year as they migrate across roads, but there are ways to reduce road-mortality. Push your community to locate important crossing points and install ‘toad tunnels’ that will keep amphibians out of harm’s way. You can also act as a crossing guard on peak migration nights in the spring- in NH’s Cheshire County, AVEO helps organize amphibian helpers, and other environmental groups provide the same leadership in different areas.
  • Clean up urban sites- although you might not think of urban water sources as important habitat for amphibians, Garcia-Gonzalez and Garcia-Vazquez (2012) found that urban ponds in Spain had considerable species diversity and more genetic diversity within species when compared with rural ponds, so urban ponds could be very important for amphibian conservation in an increasingly urban world. You can help urban frog populations by removing trash and pushing for proper chemical disposal.
  • Become a frog scientist- the Amphibian Specialist Group wants your help in cataloging the world’s species and developing records for abundance and geographic range- they want everyone to send in pictures when they see amphibians, whether or not you know what species it is. I don’t know about you, but my cell phone camera is easy to use and pretty portable.

So there are a variety of ways in which each of us can contribute to frog conservation. Whether we’d prefer to stay in the comfort of our homes, work in our gardens, or stand in the rain on a spring night, there are many options. Hopefully one (or more) of these ideas really appeals to you, and, at least where I am, spring is right around the corner- it’s a perfect time to get involved.

Works cited:

Garcia-Gonzalez, C. and E. Garcia-Vazquez. 2012. Urban ponds, neglected Noah’s Ark for amphibians. Journal of Herpetology 46: 507-514.