Tomorrow is "Save the Frogs" Day! Why do we need such a day? Frogs have been disappearing worldwide at unprecedented rates, and currently one-third of the world's 6,485 amphibian species are threatened with extinction. This should come as no surprise since frog populations are being assaulted from many directions at once--global warming, pollution, habitat destruction, infectious diseases, over-harvesting and invasive species being the greatest menaces. Despite this onslaught, there’s a lot you can do to reverse this disturbing trend. First let's look at why frogs are so important to the environment—and to our very survival.
Why We Need Frogs
Stopping the current wave of frog extinctions is important for several reasons:
- Frogs eat mosquitoes, ticks and flies that carry vector-borne diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever, lyme disease and leishmaniasis.
- Tadpoles eat algae and therefore act as a natural filtration system that keeps our drinking water clean.
- Frogs serve as food to a diverse array of predators including birds, reptiles, fish, dragonflies and monkeys, and the loss of frogs from the ecosystem would therefore negatively affect these species as well.
- Due to their permeable skin that absorbs chemicals and pollutants, frogs are accurate bioindicators, providing us with an early-response system that can tell us when something is wrong in the environment.
- Frogs are important in human medicine: 10% of the Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine have come from research that depended on frogs. When a frog species disappears, so does any chance of that species improving human well-being.
The Top Threats to Frogs’ Survival
Thanks to mankind, frogs are encountering many new perils—some shared with other species, many unique to frogs. The top threats to frog survival are:
- Global warming & climate - Frogs need moist conditions to survive. But rising temperatures mean rising cloud levels, and for frogs in tropical cloud forests, this means that time is running out, as their habitats literally dry up. Closer to home, in Yellowstone National Park, which is the world’s oldest protected area, persistent droughts in recent decades have affected the water table and caused 25% of the park’s ponds to become permanently dry. The frogs that once inhabited them are now gone.
- Pesticides & pollutants - Pesticides and pollutants can be carried by the wind to locations hundreds of miles from their origin, and then are eventually brought by gravity to the waterways in which frogs live and breed. Frogs’ permeable skin absorbs these chemicals, which can cause limb deformities (missing or extra limbs), hermaphroditism, delayed metamorphosis and deformed mouthparts.
- Habitat destruction - Urban expansion is transforming once-vibrant wetlands and forests into shopping malls and housing developments. New roads serve as deathtraps to slow-moving amphibians trying to move through an inhospitable landscape. In developing countries, species-rich rainforests are quickly being converted into oil palm plantations, sugarcane fields and ranchland.
- Infectious diseases - Tens of millions of frogs are shipped around the world each year for use in the frog pet, food, bait and laboratory trades. Very few of these frogs undergo disease testing, and sick frogs (or the water in which they were held) inevitably escape into their new environment, where native frogs have no evolved defenses against the new pathogens. One such disease, chytridiomycosis, has driven up to 100 frog species to complete extinction. Human activity is facilitating the spread of chytridiomycosis and threatening frog species worldwide.
- Over-harvesting for the pet and food trades - Tens of millions of frogs are removed from the wild each year, destined for dinner plates and for American, European and Japanese pet shops. This harvest is unsustainable, and threatens some of the world’s most appreciated frogs: brightly colored species such as poison dart frogs and red-eyed treefrogs, and large frogs, such as the Goliath frog, which could be hunted to extinction for the meat on their legs.
- Invasive species - Trout have been introduced to naturally fishless mountain lakes and streams worldwide, from the Sierra Nevada range to Patagonia and the Southern Alps. Trout are voracious predators of tadpoles, and have completely extirpated many montane frog populations, as is the case with the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged frog, formerly one of the most abundant amphibians in California.
How You Can Help the Frogs
There is a lot you can do to stem the tide of frog destruction. First and foremost, take into account frogs and other species—especially endangered ones—when evaluating public policies. In this regard, you can become active as follows:
- Support businesses and politicians that have positive environmental track records.
- Don’t use pesticides at home.
- Slow down driving on wet nights. Road kill is a significant cause of frog mortality.
- Oppose habitat destruction including that caused by urban and suburban sprawl.
- Support stricter infectious-disease screening in the frog pet, food, bait and laboratory trades.
- Don't eat frog legs!
- Fight the introduction of invasive species. Tell your congressmen you support HR669.
- Reduce your environmental footprint.
- Join SAVE THE FROGS! to support its advocacy efforts on behalf of frogs—and to keep informed.
Frogs & Habitat Destruction
Frogs & Infectious Diseases
A Frog Blog by Rich Bard
Celebrate 'Save the Frogs Day': April 28
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Guest contributor bio: Dr. Kerry Kriger holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. Dr. Kriger is Founder & Executive Director of SAVE THE FROGS!.