That well-known frog call on a summer evening may soon be a thing of the past. A new study shows climate change is the big culprit driving our amphibian friends to the brink of oblivion. However, experts say it is not too late to reverse the problem.
Habitat destruction and disease are well-documented causes of the decline of amphibians – one of the most endangered animals on the planet.
However, a study coordinated by the Amphibian Red List Authority – the specialist group for amphibians attached to the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature – and presented and managed by Re:wild, found that climate change is now one of the biggest threats to frogs, salamanders and caecilians (without limbs) are. The study used two decades of data to analyze the extinction risk of 8,000 amphibian species worldwide.
More than 2,000 of these species were evaluated for the first time.
More than 1,000 experts around the world contributed their data and expertise to find that two out of every five amphibians are currently threatened with extinction.
According to this, almost 41% of all amphibian species assessed are currently critically endangered, merely endangered or vulnerable to threat. This compares with 26.5% of mammals, 21.4% of reptiles and 12.9% of birds.
Four amphibian species have become extinct since 2004 and 27 additional critically endangered species are now considered possibly extinct, bringing the total to more than 160 critically endangered amphibians and considered possibly extinct.
According to the study, a few critical threats pushed more than 300 amphibians closer to extinction between 2004 and 2022 – climate change is the primary threat to 39% of these species.
Jennifer Luedtke Swandby, Re:wild’s manager of species partnerships, as well as the red list authorities coordinator of the IUCN SSC’s specialist group for amphibians, is one of the main authors of the study. She says this number is expected to rise as better data and projections about species’ responses to climate change become available.
“Climate change is particularly worrying for amphibians – largely because they are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment,” says Swandby.
“As we humans drive changes in the climate and habitats, amphibians become climate prisoners, unable to move very far to escape the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme heat, wildfires, droughts and hurricanes.
“The study shows that we cannot continue to underestimate the threat these animals pose. The protection and restoration of forests is of critical importance, not only to protect biodiversity, but also to tackle climate change.”
According to the study, Swandby says habitat destruction and degradation due to agricultural activities, infrastructure development and other industries is still the most common threat and affects 93% of all endangered amphibian species.
“Extended habitat and corridor protection in places important to biodiversity remains critical.”
According to Swandby, diseases, especially the chytrid fungus – which has wiped out amphibian species in Latin America, Australia and the United States – as well as overexploitation continue to cause a drastic decline in amphibians.
“Habitat destruction and degradation, disease and overexploitation are all threats exacerbated by the effects of climate change.”
Salamanders especially at risk
The study also found that three out of five salamander species are threatened with extinction due to habitat destruction and climate change – this makes salamanders the world’s most endangered group of amphibians.
North America is home to the most biodiverse community of salamanders in the world. However, conservationists are concerned about a deadly salamander fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which has been found in Asia and Europe and may soon invade North and South America.
“Bsal has not yet been found in the United States, but because humans and other animals can spread the fungus to new places, it may only be a matter of time before we see the second global amphibian disease pandemic,” says Dede Olson, a research ecologist. of the USDA Forest Service, member of the IUCN SSC’s Amphibian Specialist Group and co-author of the study.
“It is critical that we continue to institute proactive conservation actions to prevent the spread of Bsal to the United States, including effective biosecurity practices for wild and captive amphibians, as well as rapid detection and response measures.”
Adam Sweidan, chairman and co-founder of Synchronicity Earth, says the entire history of amphibian conservation proves how essential this information is.
“If the IUCN Red List had been updated in the 1970s on a similar scale as it is today, we could have detected the extensive amphibian disease pandemic 20 years before it decimated the amphibian populations.
“However, it is not 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 must act quickly.”
Kelsey Neam, Re:wild’s priorities and metrics species coordinator and one of the lead authors of the study, says amphibians are disappearing faster than we can study them and the list of reasons to protect them is long.
“They play a role in the development of medicine, act as pest control, warn us about environmental conditions and help make the planet more beautiful. While our paper focuses on the effects of climate change on amphibians, the reverse is also of critical importance: that protecting amphibians is a solution to the climate crisis because of their key role in keeping carbon-containing ecosystems healthy.
“As a global community, it is time to invest in the future of amphibians, which in turn is an investment in the future of our planet.”