By: Harrison York
While a wide range of species are currently considered endangered due to habitat loss, direct human interference, and climate change, amphibian populations are declining at a faster rate, leading to increasing concerns over the health of their respective environments.
Amphibians have long been regarded as a valuable indicator species. Because their population can grow or shrink very quickly in response to changes in their environments, their population is a good indicator of the health of their habitat. This is due to the fact that amphibians breathe—in part or in whole (depending on the species)—through their skin. They are therefore susceptible to any and all changes in their habitat as they directly ingest whatever they come into contact with. These environmental changes can include a rise or fall in regional temperature, the introduction of an invasive species, or a new chemical in the water supply. As an indicator species, the decline in amphibian populations is a warning that something in the environment is wrong, and if the problem worsens, more species may become similarly endangered. Environmental biologists often closely monitor amphibian communities to detect these problems before they begin to affect other species, and the ecosystem as a whole. If these issues are caught quickly, conservation and recovery efforts can stop a problem from growing into a catastrophe.
Additionally, amphibians fill both predator and prey roles in their food chains. This means that their increased or decreased presence has a far-reaching impact on many other species, such as insects, reptiles, and birds. This indirectly impacts larger mammals and plant life, ultimately altering the flow of whole ecosystems.
A Population in Decline
Amphibian populations are indeed in global decline, with hotspots of threatened groups present on every continent (with the exception of Antarctica). Amphibians are most diverse in the tropics, with the Amazon rainforest in Brazil being home to over 1,000 different species. North America, while home to only a third of the number of amphibian species as Brazil, has the greatest diversity of salamanders. In America, areas where amphibians are most threatened include regions near the Californian coast and northern Florida. Similarly, species in Mexico, Central America, and Southern China are all facing critical endangerment. The global average of amphibian population decline is around 3.79 percent per year, with estimates stating that in 20 years, some species will only occupy half of their current habitats.
While human impact poses a very serious threat to animals, a fungi known as chytrid has also been ravaging amphibian populations, with 501 species of frogs, toads, and salamanders believed to have been hurt by the pathogen the fungus causes. Currently, 40 percent (3,200) of amphibian species are endangered because of human actions and chytridiomycosis, with some even arguing that the spread of chytridiomycosis itself is largely caused by humans. In a recent study, however, a significant number of species that are listed as “data deficient” are predicted to be similarly at risk. If this study proves true, the amphibian species immediately in danger of becoming extinct would be over 50%, at around 4,300 species.
Because the threat to amphibian populations is so apparent, undertakings to conserve and restore these animals’ habitats are currently active. In America, the U.S. Geological Survey created the National Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, or ARMI, to collect data on the fluctuation of amphibian populations. In addition, scientists believe that because amphibian species listed as “data deficient” often have a risk level similar to documented species, conservation efforts for well-known populations will benefit both groups by improving shared environmental factors.
In order to protect amphibian populations long-term, their habitats must be preserved. This means setting aside regions that will remain undeveloped for the native environment to remain healthy and reducing pollution that destroys vital amphibian ecosystems.
1. Why are so many amphibian species endangered?
Amphibian species are endangered at a rate greater than that of other groups of animals because they are highly susceptible to minor changes in their environment. Many amphibians breathe at least partially through their skin, so any pollutants or chemicals not native to their habitat can quickly enter the organism and be very harmful. On top of this, there are certain fungi that are deadly to amphibian populations and contribute to their endangerment. Finally, habitat destruction caused by people is a major factor for their population decline.
2. Where are amphibians found and where are they most at risk?
The majority of amphibian species can be found in Brazil. This is because of the topical environment and rich habitat of the Amazon Rainforest. Amphibians, however, can be found on every continent besides Antarctica. Salamander species are found in the greatest diversity in the United States. In America, places where amphibians are most at risk are southern California and Florida, where their habitats are shrinking due to human activity. Regions of southern China have higher rates of amphibian population decline as well.
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