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Amphibian in decline

Most endangered vertebrates in the world

by Adam Hostetter/Sports & Entertainment

The gray tree frog, native to Illinois, is affect by the challenges amphibians are facing today.  Photo by Kaitlyn Conrad

The gray tree frog, native to Illinois, is affect by the challenges amphibians are facing today.
Photo by Kaitlyn Conrad

For years, the animal kingdom has been threatened by multiple perils, from pollution to disease to habitat destruction. Now more than ever, a key portion of Kingdom Animalia (the taxonomic ranking, not an actual empire of animals) is facing difficulties: the amphibians. The frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians – wormlike creatures exclusively in South America – are all in decline throughout the world, even in our own backyards of Illinois. Lucinda Horton, Lake Land College’s resident zoologist, further emphasizes by pointing out that, “It is estimated that almost 20 (amphibian) species have become extinct.  Another 32 percent is threatened and 43 percent are in decline.”

Horton further elaborated that “Amphibians are hunted for food and medicine in some countries.  Because of the pet trade, wild amphibians are taken from their habitats and disease organisms spread easily. They also have much habitat loss, UV radiation and climate change to deal with.”

Illinois also has its fair share in dwindling amphibian populations. “85% of wetlands (pre-European settlement) in Illinois have been drained, limiting places for (amphibian) reproduction and habitat,” reported Horton. Agricultural pollution in the form of herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals are also taking their tolls. Climate change in Illinois has resulted in increased drought and heat, causing “vernal ponds and ditches where amphibians have always reproduced” to dry up. Buckthorn, an invasive species of plant, grows around ponds and releases a chemical that stops amphibian eggs from hatching.

In addition to all these threats for amphibians, something new has developed over the years. The chytrid fungus has been found around the world and is devastating certain populations, especially in frogs and toads. This fungus causes chytridiomycosis and is usually fatal to amphibians. In detail, Horton explained that “it affects the permeable skin of amphibians and interferes with respiration, hydration, osmoregulation and thermoregulation.” At least 350 species have been affected by the disease and it spreads through pet trade and the use of frogs for food and education. Many Illinois species carry the fungus, with frogs more susceptible than salamanders.

With all of these problems fighting against amphibian populations, scientists have become more and more concerned, as well as the general public – after all, frog legs are a near delicacy to some. To help out the fellow frog and slimy salamander, take some simple precautions: limit the use of herbicides and pesticides, do not eat frog legs (surely something else that is not facing extinction will suffice), do not purchase wild-caught amphibians and do not set pet amphibians free (this might exacerbate the chytrid fungus problem), brake for toads while driving and do not stock non-native fish, as they might hurt local frog populations. If the resources are available, build a frog pond – the more habitat the better. This is a complicated problem, but there are answers and help is always appreciated.

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