, August 26, 2009 (ENS) – A new coalition of organizations, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, is being established in an attempt to conserve the world's vanishing frogs, toads and salamanders. Threats to these species are numerous - a deadly fungus, habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and climate change.
The alliance came together at the first Amphibian Mini Summit at the Zoological Society of London last week. The group includes amphibian specialists working in the wild as well as those in zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens.
"If we want to stop the amphibian extinction crisis, we have to protect the areas where amphibians are threatened by habitat destruction," says Claude Gascon, co-chair of the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group. "One of the reasons amphibians are in such dire straits is because many species are only found in single sites and are therefore much more susceptible to habitat loss."
Blue poison dart frog found in southern Suriname and Brazil. (Photo by Michael Gabler)
Amphibian scientists say that the alliance is needed because amphibians are the most threatened group of animals in the world.
After thriving for over 360 million years, one in three of the 6,000 recognized amphibian species are now at risk of extinction and as many as 122 species have gone extinct since 1980.
"The world's amphibians are facing an uphill battle for survival," says James Collins of Arizona State University, co-chair of the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group.
"Infectious diseases, habitat loss, climate change, introduced species, commercial use and pollution all affect amphibian survival. By far the worst threats are infectious disease and habitat destruction, so the Alliance will focus on these issues first," he said.
Curbing the spread of amphibian chytrid fungus will be a top priority for the amphibian experts.
Recent preliminary evidence, described in the April issue of the journal "BioScience," suggests that individual amphibians can develop resistance to the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.
The experts will focus on identifying the presence of naturally-occurring bacteria that confer so-called acquired immunity to the killer frog disease, and investigating their use in managing the disease in other species. So far the bacteria have only been found on a few species and more research is needed.
Anti-fungal drugs to combat the deadly disease, exploring resistance in captive-bred populations and translocations all need to be investigated.
The alliance will explore ways of preventing the spread of the fungus to new places, such as Madagascar, which so far shows no evidence of the presence of the amphibian chytrid fungus.
"Amphibians have so much to offer humans," says Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and convenor of the Amphibian Mini-Summit.
"Many have an arsenal of compounds stored in their skin that have the potential to address a multitude of human diseases. However, opportunities are being lost, such as the Southern Gastric Brooding Frog, which could have led to the development of a medicine for human peptic ulcers, had it not gone extinct," Stuart said. "We simply cannot afford to let this current amphibian extinction crisis go unchecked."
The new Alliance will work with partners to implement the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan and to raise the profile of amphibians in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.
Red frog at Red Frog Beach, Bocas del Toro, Panama, site of a resort development. (Photo by Nyall and Maryanne Dawson)
In September 2005, the Amphibian Conservation Summit, held in Washington, DC, placed a $400 million price tag on its newly drafted Amphibian Conservation Action Plan, a figure that was again mentioned in July 2006 when the Amphibian Survival Alliance was first proposed by 50 of the world's amphibian researchers.
At the Amphibian Mini Summit last week, Gascon said that at most two percent of that figure has been acquired and disbursed, and participants reported that fund-raising has been a struggle.
One of the primary activities recommended in the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan is a captive breeding strategy called Amphibian Ark.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums has joined with the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group and the Amphibian Specialist Group to rescue priority species and bring them into "protective custody" in zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens research centers for safekeeping and breeding.
The rescued species will be released into the wild when the original threats have been controlled.
One example of such a program is the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in central Panama. Several zoos and aquariums, academic institutions, and international conservation organizations have joined to establish this new facility which holds several hundred native Panamanian frogs, toads, and salamanders. The goal is to maintain as many as 1,000 animals representing some 40 species.
Amphibian declines have been documented in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Several species in the U.S. Pacific Northwest are listed as candidates for the federal Endangered Species List. More than a dozen species have disappeared from Australia in recent years.
"This is part of an overall biodiversity crisis, and amphibians seem to have been hit the hardest of all vertebrate species," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, one of the pioneers in this field, who first helped document amphibian declines almost 20 years ago. "The long-term ecological repercussions of their decline could be profound, and we have to do something about it."
The Amphibian Survival Alliance is supported by:
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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