STELLENBOSCH, South Africa — Hundreds of amphibians are nearing extinction due to climate change, an alarming new study warns. Previously, habitat destruction and diseases were recognized as leading causes behind the declining amphibian population, but that is now changing.
A worrying statistic emerged as two out of every five amphibians were found to be on the brink of extinction. The assessment evaluated more than 8,000 amphibian species worldwide, with 2,286 of them being studied for the very first time. Since 2004, over 300 amphibian species have been pushed nearer to extinction, with climate change being the main concern for 39 percent of them.
“As humans drive changes in the climate and to habitats, amphibians are becoming climate captives, unable to move very far to escape the climate change-induced increase in frequency and intensity of extreme heat, wildfires, drought and hurricanes,” says study lead author Jennifer Luedtke Swandby, Re:wild manager of species partnerships and Red List Authority coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission’s Amphibian Specialist Group, in a media release.
“Our study shows that we cannot continue to underestimate this threat. Protecting and restoring forests is critical not only to safeguarding biodiversity, but also to tackling climate change.”
Despite climate change’s growing impact, habitat destruction still remains a predominant threat, affecting a whopping 93 percent of all endangered amphibian species. Agriculture practices, infrastructural development, and other industries continue to infringe on their natural habitats. The study also stressed the persistent risks posed by the chytrid fungus, responsible for decimating amphibian populations across Latin America, Australia, and the United States.
The most threatened amphibians are the salamanders. Three out of five salamander species face the risk of extinction, primarily because of habitat destruction and climate change. With North America housing the world’s most diverse salamander community, there’s rising concern regarding the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) fungus from Asia and Europe reaching the continent.
“Bsal has not yet been detected in the United States, but because humans and other animals can introduce the fungus to new places, it may only be a matter of time before we see the second global amphibian disease pandemic,” explains study co-author Dede Olson, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service and member of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group.
“It is critical that we continue to implement proactive conservation actions to prevent the spread of Bsal into the United States, including effective biosecurity practices for wild and captive amphibians, and rapid detection and response measures. The North American Bsal Task Force includes a multi-pronged strategic plan that includes: a continental surveillance and monitoring network; research studies identifying high-risk geographies and species; and collaborative partnerships across public, private, and governmental sectors.”
Compared with data from the 2004 IUCN Red List, the current study reveals a grim picture: 41 percent of all studied amphibian species are globally threatened. To put things into perspective, this is considerably higher than the percentages for mammals (26.5%), reptiles (21.4%), and birds (12.9%).
Four species have been declared extinct since 2004. However, conservation actions have directly improved the status of 63 species, largely due to habitat protection initiatives.
“The history of amphibian conservation itself proves how vital this information is,” says Adam Sweidan, chair and co-founder of Synchronicity Earth. “If the IUCN Red List had been updated on a similar scale in the 1970s that it is today, we could have traced the sweeping amphibian disease pandemic 20 years before it devastated amphibian populations. It isn’t too late–we have this wealth of information, we have the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan, but plans and information are not enough. We need to act. We need to act fast.”
Researchers warn that “amphibians are disappearing faster than we can study them.”
“And while our paper focuses on the effects of climate change on amphibians, the reverse is also critically important: that the protection and restoration of amphibians is a solution to the climate crisis because of their key role in keeping carbon-storing ecosystems healthy,” notes study lead author Kelsey Neam, Re:wild species priorities and metrics coordinator. “As a global community it is time to invest in the future of amphibians, which is an investment in the future of our planet.”
The study is published in the journal Nature.
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