Save the frogs

A “metaphorical Noah’s Ark” is how Claude Gascon describes the action plan drafted last month at an Amphibian Conservation Summit in Washington, D.C. “If implemented, it would hopefully reverse the trend in amphibian extinctions,” says Gascon, an officer of the D.C.–based Conservation International and chairman of the World Conservation Union’s Global Amphibian Specialist Group.

GOING, GOING. Because many amphibian species, such as this Mexican black-eyed leaf frog, are in imminent danger of extinction, researchers drafted a search-and-rescue plan for them. T. Leenders, Conservation Int’l.

Over the past quarter century, biologists have documented the extinction of nine frog and salamander species, and scientists speculate that another 113 also died out in that time. Those figures are from a report in the Dec. 3, 2004 Science. Data presented at the recent summit indicate that at least one-third of the roughly 6,000 known amphibian species now are at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss, pollution, and climate change pose chronic threats to amphibians. A more acute danger is a fungus in the group called chytrids, summit attendees noted. These skin infections were first reported to kill amphibians only 7 years ago (SN: 7/4/98, p. 7: http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/sn_arc98/7_4_98/fob9.htm). Today, Gascon says, survival of “about 200 [amphibian] species appears threatened by this fungus.” The proposed 5-year, $400 million action plan makes research on the disease a priority.

The plan also calls for better mapping of species whose habitats are especially threatened by any risk factor. Such data would enable “rapid-response teams” of biologists to collect amphibians in the path of disease or environmental change. The animals would be kept and bred in captivity until they could be safely released.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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