In case you haven’t heard, amphibians are in big trouble around the world. Species of frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians (worm-like, legless amphibians) are winking out at what appears to be an unnaturally high rate. This widespread phenomenon was first recognized by scientists over twenty years ago. A handful of causes have since been identified: habitat loss, disease, introduced predators and competitors, global warming, and over-exploitation. We still have a lot to learn about the relative importance of these factors and how they might work synergistically to weaken amphibian populations. The good news is— and there hasn’t been much in this story— that many concerned scientists are working hard to understand the causes of amphibian decline and to conserve the species that remain.
Over 60 of these scientists recently met in Washington, D.C. for the Amphibian Conservation Summit (Sept 17-19, 2005), an unprecedented event convened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). This summit represents the culmination of a growing disquietude that surged with the publication of last year’s Global Amphibian Assessment. That amphibians are declining was not the big news— that fact was already widely appreciated. Rather it was the severity of the problem: the assessment reported that a third of all amphibian species are under threat of extinction and that about 125 species have disappeared since 1980. Amphibians are the most threatened of the vertebrates, the taxonomic group that also includes mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish.
The major product of the summit in Washington is the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP). The summits’ attendees wrote up the ACAP because, the plan states, “…it is morally irresponsible to document amphibian declines and extinctions without also designing and promoting a response to this global crisis.” The ACAP outlines four primary interventions:
1. Expanded understanding of the causes of declines and extinctions
2. Ongoing documentation of amphibian diversity, and how it is changing
3. Development and implementation of long-term conservation programs
4. Emergency responses to immediate crises
The idea is that the ACAP will be presented to “governments, the business sector, civil society and the scientific community”, in the hope that these groups will do something to save amphibians. The ACAP is expected to cost 400 million dollars to implement over the next five years.
Hmmm… 400 million bucks doesn’t seem like much to work with when you are trying to save an important chunk of the world’s biodiversity from being extinguished. But I will defer to the collective reasoning of those who wrote up the ACAP. If they think 400 million will get the job done, that’s great. Let’s hope the money will be made available and that it will be spent wisely.
As a semi-young and as yet unpublished amphibian biologist, I am not yet “in the loop” with respect to the community of scientists who get invited to things like the Amphibian Conservation Summit. I am working on building up my credentials and research skills, so that in the future I too can make a positive contribution to the welfare of amphibians.