Monday, December 16, 2013

I wonder why the verge of amphibian global extinction didn't make the front page news

The following is guest post by Debbie Jacobs, a senior at Clemson University enrolled in Dr. Barrett's Creative Inquiry course focused on amphibian conservation.

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, encompassing the organisms that most people would consider scary, slimy, scaly, or dangerous. However, I believe these creatures are among the most misunderstood. Amphibians are one of the most endangered vertebrate groups, and many species are at risk of extinction.
The global decline in the amphibians was first noticed by the scientific community in 1989 when the World Congressof Herpetology met to function as a voice for international herpetological issues in conservation. During which they discussed solutions to the rising global amphibian concern. Recent scientific findings have made progress towards understanding the reasons behind the amphibian global decline. The decline is a combination of many factors such as disease and environmental changes due to human activity. The common disease affecting most amphibians is the widespread invasion of the Chytrid fungus causing many of these mass extinctions. Scientists are trying to understand the full range of factors stressing these creatures to become more susceptible to the fungus, and acquire how the fungus can be stopped or mitigated. Recent monitoring efforts have been successful for Costa Rica’s very diverse amphibian population in understanding the declines and where the fungus will strike next. These efforts have helped significantly in the conservation of endangered amphibians in the Central American area.
Within Costa Rica, research and monitoring has shown that areas with lack of habitat deforestation but with an increase in climate temperatures within the last decade has been a strong environmental factor in the reduction of the quantity of  leaf litter essential to the habitat of amphibians of the area (Whitfield, 2006). Research to determine if Chytrid fungus can be implicated in the mass amphibian decline in Costa Rica found that the disease was in most areas at different altitudes before the mass declines of amphibian population took place (Puschendorf, 2006).  Other studies show that the areas where Chytrid fungus has been most detrimental are those areas with the most influence of human activity. Efforts to monitor the situation by predicting where the fungus will strike next have become a race against time as species numbers decline. Conservationists have had to resort to desperate measures to secure preservation of certain species by keeping some in captivity until the fungus can be eradicated out of the natural environment. As new techniques and procedures are developing to help assist scientists in understanding how to stop the fungus, the World Congress of Herpetology hopes to raise awareness of the importance of amphibians, and how they serve important ecological roles. These creatures are vital to the ecosystem and are good ecological indicators due to their high degree of sensitivity and their ability to respond to changes in the environment. These creatures deserve to be protected for generations to come. Of course, it starts with you.

Read the scientific facts:
1. Weldon C, du Preez LH, Hyatt AD, Muller R, Speare R. Origin of the amphibian chytrid fungus. Emerging Infectious Diseases [1080-6059]. Available from
2. Rosenblum E, Voyles J, Poorten T, Stajich J. The Deadly Chytrid Fungus: A Story of n Emerging Pathogen. PLoS Pathogens. [1000550].  Available from
3. Whitfield S, Bell K, Philippi T, Sasa M, Bolaños F, Chaves G, Savage J, Donnelly M. Amphibian and Reptile declines over 35 years at La Selva, Costa Rica. JSTOR: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

4. Puschendorf R, Bolaños F, Chaves G. The Amphibian Chytrid Fungus along an Altitudinal transect before the first reported declines in Costa Rica. Biological Conservation. [132: 136-142]  Available from

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