Environment


I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Gerardo Garcia, Jamie Topsey, Dan Lay and Charlotte Goble at Durrell. In addition to a having a fantastic facility there on the Isle of Jersey, these folks have put together really great programs in training and on-the-ground amphibian conservation. I’m going to try to post a few images here of their facilities. The Agile Frog, one of only 3 amphibian species on Jersey is down to very small numbers in the wild at one location. The Durrell folks have been collecting eggs and headstarting tadpoles and froglets for release for several years now into two locations and are seeing success!  Check out my friend Gerardo Garcia here in this quick video from http://www.durrell.org/Home/Videos/Agile-frog-tadpole-releasing/ that details their work. It’s really great!

In addition to their work with Agile Frogs, Durrell is working with the Mountain Chicken (no, not a feathered kind!), another endangered frog (Leptodactylus fallax) from the caribbean. Last year there was a much publicized rescue of these frogs from the island of Montserrat. You can read more about this at this link:

http://www.durrell.org/Animals/Amphibians/Mountain-Chicken/

I was able to put fit into some tyvek and enter their awesome biosecure facility where they are breeding this rare frog. Gerardo says they hope to return frogs to Montserrat by the end of the year to trial reintroductions in a safer place on the island.

Houston Zoo received a grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife to begin a new conservation education program called Toad Trackers, and they have recently completed their first two classes.

In the Toad Tracker program, teenagers are monitoring wild Gulf Coast Toads (Bufo nebulifer) within the zoo grounds. It is a series of classes in the classroom and in the field, and they also learn about global amphibian declines, in addition to the field training which focuses on collecting morphological, environmental and geographic data (GPS).

The students are thorougyl enjoying themselves so far, and hopefully, are taking away important messages about looking after the environment and amphibians in general. The program also includes a post analysis session after the field training, which includes organizing and answering the data they collected and they must answer several conservation discussion questions. They have to do this to become a certified expert “Toad Tracker”.

More information about this program can be found on the Zoo’s web site, http://www.houstonzoo.org/toad-trackers/

This is another example of a great program developed by zoos to help conserve the world’s amphibians – what programs are your zoos involved with?

Unfortunately, the New Zealand Government wants to make a quick buck by mining some of the beautiful New Zealand forests which are home to Archey’s frogs (Leiopelma archeyi) and Hochstetter’s frogs (Leiopelma hochstetteri). If this goes ahead then we will be able to document the extinction of two more frog species.

Archey's Frog. Iamge: Patrick Crawley.

In the 1990s areas of New Zealand that were considered to be of “high conservation value” (including many National Parks) were placed on Schedule 4 which recognised their conservation significance and proclaimed them as a “No go” area for all other activities. The New Zealand Government is now asking for public submissions about their proposal to remove some of this high conservation value land from Schedule 4 to open it up for mining (coal, gold iron ore and rare minerals). The areas to be mined include several long-term frog monitoring sites where the frog populations have been continually monitored for over 40 years – this represents the best data on frog populations anywhere in the world.

In addition the proposed mining area includes the ‘type’ locality of Archey’s frog (Tokatea on the Coromandel Peninsula) and Hochstetter’s frogs (Coromandel Peninsula). Archey’s frogs only occur in two areas of New Zealand and the Coromandel is considered the ‘stronghold’ population.

“Save our frogs – stop the mining” really is the biggest issue in New Zealand conservation – of course saving the long-tailed bat, woodroses and a North Island brown kiwi along the way is important too!

These endangered frogs (Archey’s are Critically Endangered losing 88% of their population since 1996) are just hanging in there and without our help they will disappear. If we destroy their habitat then we will quickly lose a part of one of the most important pieces of New Zealand history as well as a large piece of the amphibian evolutionary tree. We have a moral obligation to protect these original inhabitants of New Zealand – the little people of the forest.

For more information on how the frogs will be affected (including maps of distribution and proposed areas to be mined) click here…… http://www.nzfrogs.org/

To see some ppt about the mining issue during a recent Panel Discussion (including frogs) click here……. http://www.otago.ac.nz/law/nrl/mining/index.html

For more information about the mining in Coromandel click here……. http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/saving-our-environment/threats-and-impacts-/mining-/mining-coromandel

Please make a submission to the New Zealand Government by clicking here ….. http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/mining

The Kihansi spray toad used to live in the spray region of the Kihansi waterfall, in Tanzania, and relied heavily on the spray from the waterfall to maintain a constant temperature and humidity in its environment. But due to the construction of a dam which funded by the World Bank, the waterfall has been disrupted, and the Kihansi spray toad has recently been declared Extinct in the Wild.

A number of small populations of this species exist in US zoos, and in spit of several setbacks with the initial population of 500 animals that were collected, the current population now sits at around 470 animals.

How many more species will become extinct in the wild, relying entirely on ex situ “ark” populations for their survival, before we start to take better care of our planet and ALL of its inhabitants?

More information on the Kihansi spray toad can be found here.

Korean scientists have recently discovered chytrid fungus in introduced bullfrogs in South Korea, although so far, this does not appear to be having an impact on South Korean amphibians. There are thirteen frog and five salamander species in the country, which boats 65 percent of natural forest cover.

Pierre Fidenci, President of Endangered Species International (ESI), talks about the state of amphibians in South Korea in an interview with Mongabay.com, and there is an additional report on The Korean Times web site. In his interview on mongabay.com, Pierre also says:

We put our focus depending on the degree of urgency (not all endangered species have the same degree of extinction, some are much more threatened), our experience and expertise, and the location (we tend to go to places where no other conservation NGOs work). We focus on endangered species found in various types of habitat and serving as protecting umbrella to other endangered species and various wild habitat.

In a similar vein, Amphibian Ark staff have been using an “amphibian species prioritization” process, which is now known as a conservation action planning process  to work with amphibian experts around the world to document their collective knowledge, to produce ordered lists of conservation action required to help save threatened species.

“In a normal, natural wetland, we would find anywhere between five and six species of frog. Here there are only two.” That’s what Edmonton biologist Brett Scheffers is observing, per this report in PHYSORG.COM.

Man-made wetlands in Edmonton’s new neighborhoods may look good, but do they adequately sustain life?
In the International Year of the Frog, that’s the question Brett Scheffers wants to answer as part of his master’s project in biological sciences. He’s monitoring frogs, salamanders and snakes living in urban wetlands to see how well they’re surviving. The plight of amphibians worldwide has been a huge concern of late. The World Conservation Union recently reported that at least one third of known amphibian species are threatened with extinction, largely because of the rapid spread of an infectious fungal disease.

And as far as Sheffer’s research is concerned, all is not well.

“Around the city in the last six years, about 25 per cent of wetlands have been destroyed,” said Scheffers, who has surveyed about 90 wetlands and is now closely monitoring six.

According to provincial law, wetlands must now be replaced when they succumb to urban sprawl, but it’s unclear whether these constructed counterparts support vulnerable amphibian populations.

“In a normal, natural wetland, we would find anywhere between five and six species of frog,” he said on Wednesday, standing by a constructed wetland in Whitemud Ravine on Edmonton’s south side. “Here there are only two.” He says there are also far fewer amphibians in general in the Whitemud case, hundreds as opposed to thousands in a natural setting, and no evidence of snakes.

“When [contractors] build these houses, they basically build a bunch of impermeable boundaries,” said Scheffers. “We don’t know how significant these wetlands are on the landscape. Furthermore, we don’t know what kind of impact urbanization has on salamanders or other amphibians like wood or chorus frogs.”

So with his faithful dog Guinness at his side, Scheffers has been tracking the amphibians to more precisely measure the drop in local biodiversity and population levels. By coating frogs in fluorescent dye and setting traps that indicate what direction they’re moving in, he can monitor what routes they choose when they leave a pond.

The good news is that when they have a choice, amphibians head for forest rather than developed areas. But in many cases “they get about 20 or 30 metres from the wetland, then something clicks; they go, ‘where am I going?’ Then they turn around and go right back.”

Despite its problems, the Whitmud Ravine an example of how to get it almost right, says Scheffers. It’s surrounded by houses but still connected to a forest.

“Unfortunately they put a road in between the forest and the wetland, and amphibians do not like roads. It’s very hard for frogs to get across, so they tend to just get trapped in storm water drains.”

There are easy ways to foster biodiversity in constructed wetlands, says Scheffers. Provide enough shallow water to lay eggs, slope banks gradually into deeper water and plant lots of vegetation below as well as above the water. Most importantly, however, frogs need access to undisturbed forest or grasslands.

When Scheffers finishes his master’s degree next year, he plans to continue his work in a doctorate in urban amphibian ecology, a fledgling field since many regard urban environments as a lost cause when it comes to protection.

“But the mindsets are changing,” he said. “People see that it’s better to have a more functional wetland for water quality and other biological purposes than just big storm water retention ponds.

“Urban sprawl is with us and will be with us for a very long time. So I would advise future land managers to have some sort of foresight if we want to make sure we have biodiversity in urban landscapes.”

Source: University of Alberta

We’re only weeks away from 2008 The Year of the Frog! Here’s a video, created by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Auburn Career Center, that features “kids telling kids” about the amphibian crisis — what’s happening, and why, and most important, what kids can do about it. Kudos to the folks in Cleveland for making this video.

Can saving frogs lead to prosperity? That’s probably not a good question to ask a scientist with Amphibian Ark :-) but Conservation International and other science groups have released a study showing a connection between protecting biodiversity and protecting the future economic productivity of a region. Key excerpt: “70 percent of the world’s highest priority areas for biodiversity conservation also contain significant value in ecosystem services such as fresh water, food, carbon storage, storm buffers and other natural resources that sustain human life and support social and economic development.”

This study should help national leaders engage their industries about what’s  best for long-term prosperity. It’s great to see the biodiversity camp producing reports like this.

The U.N. conference on climate change in Bali is generating a flurry of headlines that should make the biodiversity camp jealous.  It’s a boisterous, argumentative, messy, emotional cacaphony — but from a satellite view, we can take heart that the crisis is being discussed, and progress being made.  (The Convention on Biological Diversity Web site has a news page where you can track stories from the conference.) According to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the conference: “The outcome of this conference will, to a degree, determine whether Bali — and other vulnerable places — are destined to become a lost paradise, or not. If the outcome of this conference keeps pace with the many positive political signals of the past year, we are on a good road to preventing a lost paradise.” Another threatened paradise discussed at the conference is the Amazon forest. The WWF announced that 60 percent of the Amazon could be lost by 2030 because of global warming and deforestation.

Reading all of the stories coming from Bali, and reading much less about the dire plight of animal life, I was reminded of a Jack Nicholson line in the movie, “As Good As It Gets.” Jack’s character is pleading with a friend to help him think through a personal crisis, and when the friend’s advice isn’t helpful, Jack bellows: “I’m drowning here, and you’re describing the water!” (And what about the Elvis verse, “A little less talk, a little more action”?) Imagine either line being croaked by a frog, the last in a species, covered in chytrid somewhere in South America, that somehow was able to read the news out of Bali.

The irony is this: Climate change is heating up earth’s sixth major extinction event, but we can’t get enough people focused on the biodiversity crisis because they’re concentrating on climate change. It’s not a complaint. Just the situation we’re in.

Check out Jeff Corwin’s video thank you to the National Association of Biology Teachers for their new partnership with Amphibian Ark. It’s being shown at the NABT’s conference in Atlanta tonight. I remember watching another video of Jeff on YouTube in which he explained his roots in education, having studied at Bridgewater State College, the first teachers college in the U.S.  … that his best friend is a teacher … and that he considers it the most important job in the world. So Jeff Corwin talking to teachers about the amphibian crisis is a natural fit.

The frogs have a terrific ally in Jeff Corwin (CNN Planet in Peril with Anderson Cooper, The Jeff Corwin Experience on Animal Planet).

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