For more than two decades, amphibians such as frogs, toads and salamanders are known to have suffered significant population declines all over the world. Now it seems that they are vanishing at a faster rate than previously estimated, at least in the United States and likely throughout the rest of the world.
In the United States, amphibian populations may be completely gone from half of their current habitats in another 20 years. A study of 48 species at 34 sites in California, Colorado and Florida was conducted over a ten-year period by the U.S. Geological Survey. Researchers were shocked to find that amphibian population declines are more widespread and severe than had been previously thought. In fact, scientists have calculated that amphibians are vanishing at a rate of about 3.7 percent per year.
What is even more disturbing is that amphibians considered threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature are vanishing at an even faster rate calculated at 11.6 percent per year, which means that these already- endangered animals will disappear from half of their current habitat in only six years.
About one-third of the world’s amphibian species are in decline. The IUCN report attributes the causes of the population declines to habitat loss, disease, invasive species, pollution and climate change. Some scientists believe that declining amphibian populations point to a general collapse of the world’s ecosystems. Amphibians may be more sensitive to pollution and climate change than mammals and reptiles. Amphibians are important in pest control and occupy a significant place in the food chain by serving as prey for many species of birds, snakes and fish. Their decline will almost certainly lead to population reductions in these predator species.
Is this the beginning of the end for many species throughout the world? Can we learn from this disturbing trend? Is there anything we can do about it? Only time will tell, and time is certainly not on the side of these ancient animals.
There’s more on the amphibian declines, especially as it relates to Colorado, here