July 14, 2022 — Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and lesser-known, worm-like caecilians are dying off globally at an unprecedented rate. According to the United States Geological Survey, amphibian populations are declining at a rate of about 3.5% per year in the United States alone, with more severe declines in certain regions, including the West Coast and Rocky Mountain regions.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO AMPHIBIANS?
The reasons for the amphibian declines are complex. Amphibians are highly sensitive to changes in their habitats because their skin is an important organ of respiration. Even small amounts of pesticides, pollutants, ultraviolet radiation and temperature changes can have a big impact on amphibian health. For coastal amphibians, rising sea levels add another layer of complexity with increasing salinity in coastal wetlands, forever changing the water systems amphibians need to live and breed. Habitat destruction and poaching/illegal trade also are concerns.
Added to this mixture is another major threat – an emerging chytrid fungus that develops on their fragile skin, impairing their ability to breathe. This deadly fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), and its cousin Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), are devastating amphibian populations globally.
THANKS TO YOU, HOW WE ARE HELPING
Morris Animal Foundation’s work to save amphibians is multi-faceted. We are supporting researchers working to better understand and find solutions for fungal diseases caused by Bd and Bsal. We also are launching an initiative to help researchers develop genomic tools as a safeguard to manage and conserve amphibian species in the wild.
Today, more than 500 amphibian species are threatened and in decline because of the continuing spread and persistence of Bd and Bsal fungi.
Our work on this deadly fungal disease of amphibians began more than two decades ago, shortly after the first Bd documented cases were reported in wild frogs. Our first funded study looked at the lifecycle of Bd, and findings led to additional studies focused on innovative ways to approach conservation of wild frogs and tadpoles. Additional studies have improved our understanding of how the fungus persists in the environment and we’ve also funded projects aimed at developing new ways to detect the fungus in amphibian habitats – vital information for ongoing reintroduction programs.
The good news is researchers are finding some individual frogs, populations and species are resistant to infection or carry the fungus but never develop disease. This prompted researchers to study bacterial species on amphibian skin, some of which have antifungal properties. These beneficial bacteria are now in development for use as probiotic treatments to help prevent Bd fungal infections and save species.
The second area of focus for the Foundation is the support of cutting-edge genomics studies. Genomics is a new and rapidly evolving branch of science that looks at all genes in an organism and the relationship of these genes to each other, including influence on the growth and development, as well as health and/or disease.
The Foundation is partnering with Revive & Restore, an organization that specializes in the development of genomic tools to safeguard wildlife diversity. Together, we are supporting studies to spur the development of genomic sequencing and/or biobanking for the protection and management of amphibian wildlife.
Lastly, we’ve been a key funding source for studies focused on developing reproductive tools, including sperm banking and artificial fertilization, for conserving endangered amphibians. Thanks to these efforts, conservation organizations can successfully breed certain amphibian species for reintroduction purposes.
WHY WE NEED TO SAVE AMPHIBIANS
As amphibians are found in many diverse habitats – from ponds and marshes to forests, meadows and even deserts – and on every continent, except Antarctica, declines of amphibians is a global crisis.
As a prey species for many, as well as a predator of insects and some small animals, the rapid decline and extinctions of amphibian species spell trouble for habitat health. Because of their highly permeable and sensitive skin, amphibians often are the first animals adversely affected by unnatural changes in their environment.
Amphibians also are a keystone species. When amphibians die off, the entire ecosystem suffers rippling effects and changes. Food chains are disrupted. Prey species that rely on amphibians as a food source may decline. Animals that amphibians eat, including mosquitoes and other animal vectors of disease, may increase. Water algae that tadpoles help keep in check may run rampant.
YOU CAN HELP
Learn more and spread the word about this silent extinction of amphibians. Listen to our Fresh Scoop podcast: Everything You Want to Know About Global Amphibian Declines to hear first-hand from one of our funded researchers, Dr. Valerie McKenzie, and how her team is helping to save endangered toads impacted by Bd fungal disease. Learn more in Dr. McKenzie’s TEDxMileHigh talk and follow her into the field as she and her team work to protect Boreal toads from Bd.
You also can help by donating today. Your gift will help support lifesaving animal health research, including our fight to save amphibians around the world. Thank you!