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Nos complace anunciar que, a partir de la próxima edición del boletín AArk, estaremos ofreciendo nuestro boletín de noticias tanto en inglés como en español.

Si desea suscribirse a la versión en español del boletín, por favor haga clic en el botón de abajo e inscríbase al boletín de español.

Estamos seguros de que nuestros lectores españoles apreciarán esta nueva iniciativa. Nos gustaría transmitir un agradecimiento enorme para Silvia Flores, quien ha ofrecido generosamente a traducir los boletínes para nosotros cada trimestre.

Lungless caecilian

Photographs courtesy Marvalee Wake, University of California, Berkeley, via Proceedings of the Royal Society B

A second, lungless caecilian species has recently been discovered in Guyana. This new species, Caecilita iwokramae, is very different to the other known lungless caecilian species, Typhlonectes eiselti, since it is only 11 cm long and it lives on land. T. eiselti was 72 cm in length and is completely aquatic. It is known only from a single holotype specimen.

Click here for the full report on this new species, on the National Geographic News web site. More information about T. eiselti can be found in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

Check out this Toledo Blade story about the Toledo Zoo’s plans for a biosecure facility to provide safe harbor for disappearing salamanders and other amphibians. Here’s a telling quote from R. Andrew Odum, the zoo’s herpetology curator: “Researchers are going back to areas [that had] enormous numbers of salamanders, and they’re gone completely.” 

This is the kind of initiative that needs to happen around the world, and Amphibian Ark  with 2008: The Year of the Frog will be the catalyst.

About half of 11-17 year olds in the UK are worried about climate change, according to a recent survey by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A news report deemed this a surprisingly low percentage. Actually, that’s a lot of worried kids. But the biggest finding, to me, was that only 12 percent of the UK kids feel they’re capable of making an impact on the problem by changing how they live, consume, act. Look at it this way:  for every 50 kids who truly are alarmed by the future of the planet, 12 feel they can do something about it, while 38 see the problem and feel powerless.

Right now, there’s a lot of discussion about how to make more kids aware of global warming. That will grow the branches, but not the roots. The roots are the kids who know what to do about the problems they’re seeing. These kids are key to sustainable change.

You can surf the net and find signs of healthy roots in stories about kids who led volunteer cleanup projects. But what can be the tipping point that doubles or triples the “12″ mentioned earlier? 

  • It can include involving teens in a “quick win” on the environmental and biodiversity fronts. The best one I know of is Amphibian Ark, which in a few years, with the right help, can claim victory in averting the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaur. For every $100,000 raised, a threatened species is placed on the Ark — and saved.
  • It can be a Google or Viacom, among others, using its information/entertainment power to tell stories of empowered kids to the rest of the teen nation.
  • It has to include local organizations, like zoos and conservations groups, that set the table with creative, educational programs and activities for youth.

But those with the greatest influence are going to be those on the frontline — parents and teachers.

Chilling news in today’s Global Environment Outlook announcement by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  The sweeping report includes comment on the state of biodiversity. Unfortunately, amphibians once again are documented to be worst off. Excerpt from the UNEP Web site:

“Current biodiversity changes are the fastest in human history. Species are becoming extinct a hundred times faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. The Congo Basin’s bushmeat trade is thought to be six times the sustainable rate. Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are threatened.”

If you read this blog, you know about the massive campaign by Amphibian Ark to place hundreds of amphibian species in biosecure facilities for captive breeding … before chytrid fungus, pollution, global warming, and habitat loss wipe them out. The global conservation community has declared 2008 “The Year of the Frog” to bring attention to the crisis.  This article from the University of Manchester (UK) talks about scientists trying to figure out what an individual species should be fed once contained.  In this case, it’s the leaf frog Cruziohyla calcarifer which lives in the rainforest canopy of Costa Rica.

This morning, when driving into the country to pick up my daughter from Girl Scout camp, I was captivated by an interview on NPR. Krista Tippett was interviewing Sister Joan Chittister on the “Speaking of Faith” program.Chittister‘s an activist, a sister of Mount St. Benedict’s Monastery in Erie, Pennsylvania, a best-selling author, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter — oh, she’s also the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, an interfaith group. Tippett asked Chittister how she copes with the inevitably slow response to calls for change within a large organization. A portion of her answer could apply to any movement, including the Amphibian Ark campaign to avert the mass extinction of amphibians:

“It takes a long time for ideas to seep to the top, let alone to move the bottom, so you just realize that what is going on right now is simply the seeding of the question. It comes down to how many snowflakes does it take to break a branch – I don’t know but I want to be there to do my part, if I’m a snowflake.”

Walking away from the problem isn’t an option. “I am conscious, and therefore I am responsible,” she said.

The challenge, therefore, is to create armies of the conscious — a blizzard of big, heavy snowflakes — to bring down the branch in time. The branch, in our case, is raising the funds to put the 500 most threatened amphibian species on the Ark.

Want to be a big, heavy snowflake?

Visit the donations page on the Amphibian Ark Web site, for starters. Contact your government representatives to ask them to look into the problem and ways that your tax dollars can be put to use against the problem.  And just stay conscious.

Here in St. Louis, the mosquitoes seem to buzz around longer into the fall than they used to. West Nile virus cases (see cool map from Centers for Disease Control) have been reported often over the past month. Meanwhile, frogs are eerily going silent aa they face a mass extinction (the aversion of which is the mission of Amphibian Ark). Is there a connection?

I posed the question to entomologist Joseph Conlon, who is a technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association. His take? There isn’t much of a connection:

“There have been a few anecdotal reports of tadpoles consuming mosquito larvae in containers, probably a result of having no other food sources.  I’m aware of no published field studies that would establish this as a norm, though.  Adult frogs, as you are aware, will consume anything that comes their way and, no doubt, mosquitoes sometimes fall prey to them.  Whether they constitute even a marginal control on mosquito populations is rather problematic.  An overnight camping visit to the Florida Everglades, which has a burgeoning amphibian population, would tend to convince anyone (who has been nearly exsanguinated) to downplay their role in mosquito population dynamics. That being said, frogs are cool – and beautiful in their own right.  Whatever is causing their decline should be studied with an eye toward finding a way to reverse their fortunes.  Unfortunately, anti-pesticide activists are using this issue as a way to (quite wrongfully – and without a shred of scientific merit) advance their agenda.  Hopefully, cooler scientific minds will prevail and a way will be found to reestablish amphibian roles in the eco-community.”

But Kraig Adler, PhD, in a comprehensive article about amphibians, writes that:

“The international trade in frogs’ legs is enormous and mostly originates in southern Asia and the East Indies. The wild capture of so many frogs, which are insectivores, has resulted in growing populations of mosquitoes and other insects in these countries.”

So, the anecdotal answer from the Everglades is that the connection is slight; the evidence from Asia is, yes, there’s a connection. And just when you want to call it a stalemate, you learn that the amazing skin of frogs could hold the key to new, powerful mosquito repellents. Talk about changing the debate. The University of Adelade tested the  secretions from the dumpy tree frog on mice; those mice were bite-free four times longer than mice that were offered no protection.  The researchers summarized: “The discovery highlights the potential of the unsung properties of amphibian skin.” Here’s the full story.

Great video about Japanese scientists breeding frogs with transparent skin. (IF VIDEO DOESN’T PLAY, JUST SEARCH FOR SEE-THROUGH FROG ON YOUTUBE.) This can be a boon to medical research.  Here’s the full story.  Interesting that a year ago this month, PETA was promoting October as “Cut Out Dissection Month”.  This new frog would seem to be the answer. 

Fantastic story a few days ago of a British scientist who found a species believed to be extinct. It’s the brown and metallic-green tree frog (Isthomhyla rivularis).  Zoologist Andrew Gray,  curator at the Manchester Museum, made the miracle discovery in Costa Rica. He heard a frog call he didn’t recognize and climbed a tree to make the astounding discovery. He photographed the frog and released it, but vows to start a breeding program there next year. Hope Amphibian Ark is fully funded next year to help him pay the bills!  It’s great when these discoveries occur — like in May 2006 when the painted frog was reclaimed from the extinct list by Professor Carlos Rocha.

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