GLOBAL PLAN TO RESCUE AMPHIBIANS
GLOBAL PLAN TO RESCUE AMPHIBIANS
2005-09-27 at 11:57:00 am #12944
Global plan to rescue amphibians
Chytridiomycosis-affected frog (Colostethus panamensis) in Panama
Fungal attack: The hunched posture typical of infected, dying frogs
,The price of saving the world’s frogs, toads and salamanders from
oblivion will top $400m (£220m) over five years.
This is the estimated cost of a global action plan drawn up during an
expert summit in Washington DC, and backed by the UN’s biodiversity
The money would pay for the protection of habitats, for disease
prevention and captive-breeding projects, and for the ability to
respond to emergencies.
About a third of all amphibian species are at a high risk of extinction.
“Many species have already become extinct through habitat loss,” Rohan
Pethiyagoda, deputy chair of IUCN’s species survival commission, told
the BBC News website.
“The extent of these declines and extinctions is without precedent in any class of animals over the last few millennia.”
Plotting the decline
According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, a vast and authoritative
study which reported its findings last year, almost a third of the
5,743 known species are at risk of extinction; up to 122 have
disappeared within the last 25 years.
The action plan emerging from this meeting lists six major reasons behind the decline:
* habitat loss and degradation
* climate change
* chemical contamination
* infectious disease, notably the fungal infection chytridiomycosis
* invasive species
Over the three days, working groups drawn from a wide range of
scientific institutions and conservation organisations have established
budgets for tackling each of these issues; the overall total comes to
Chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease which emerged in the 1970s, occupied much of the delegates’ attention.
It has devastated populations, particularly in south and central
America, but is also firmly established in Australia, Africa and Europe.
WHAT ARE AMPHIBIANS?
Group includes frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians
First successful terrestrial vertebrates 350m years ago
Adapted to many different aquatic and terrestrial habitats
Present today on every continent except Antarctica
Undergo metamorphosis, from larvae to adults
So widespread and so devastating is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, the
fungus responsible, that one of the main recommendations emerging in
the action plan is that extensive captive-breeding programmes should be
established for amphibians at particular risk.
The plan envisages that, ultimately, around 1,000 species could be
preserved in this way, with specialist facilities established on every
But not all delegates believe this to be an effective approach.
“Many species can’t be bred in captivity,” Cynthia Carey, from the
University of Colorado, US, told the BBC News website, “and with 99% of
the species they’re looking at, we just don’t know how to do it.
“You can give them the right habitat and food, but they may need
specific light or heat or moisture or group size, otherwise the female
won’t ovulate – and it can take years to study that.”
The action plan sees captive breeding as a bridge to a better era when
chytridiomycosis can be beaten and the amphibians returned to the wild.
“We’ve been running a captive-breeding programme with the boreal toad (Bufo boreas) since 1995,” said Professor Carey.
“We’ve tried re-introducing them to the wild seven or eight times, but
every time they die within a couple of years; if you don’t get rid of
the fungus, all you’re doing is providing it with lunch.”
Part of the US$404m would be spent on investigating ways of dealing
with Batrachochytrium. Ideas include researching why some species are
immune, which could lead to drugs or even a vaccine, though that is
considered to be a long way off.
Panamanian frog (undescribed species of Eleutherodactylus) dead from fungal disease in river
More than 1,800 amphibian species are in difficulties
Another idea is developing fungal resistance in captive populations through cross-breeding before returning them to the wild.
“But we also need to identify critical habitats, protect them and then
enforce protection,” said Rohan Pethiyagoda, who runs the Wildlife
Heritage Trust in Sri Lanka.
“Where I come from, 95% of the original habitat has already
disappeared; and sometimes the patches left are less than one square
kilometre in size.”
Other sums would go towards combating over-harvesting – the
unsustainable use of amphibians for food, medicine and the pet trade -
and to establishing rapid-response teams that could travel to a site
when a particular population collapses.
All sources will be explored for funding. At the meeting, two grants
amounting to a total of US$700,000 were announced, and there were
indications that the powerful Global Environment Facility may be
willing to invest.
Many delegates emphasised the importance of putting amphibian decline
in the context of broader environmental change and its impact on human
AMPHIBIANS: THE ASSESSMENT
Amphibians in deep trouble
“We all know that amphibian decline is just the first manifestation of
synergies between different factors,” said Tom Lovejoy, the president
of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in
“We’re living in this global soup of chemicals; there’s climate change,
the oceans are already a tenth of a percent more acid than they were.
“So, by finding ways to manage the first manifestation of these
negative synergies, we’ll be better able to deal with other
manifestations what will occur in the future.”
But others were less optimistic that US$404m – even presuming that it is forthcoming – can make much a difference.
“I would be optimistic if people started doing something about the
underlying issues such as climate change and pollution,” said Professor
Tim Halliday, international director of the Declining Amphibians Task
“But there’s no sign that these things are changing.”