Researchers in Canada have found, for the first time ever, a photosynthetic symbionts in a vertebrate. A unicellular green alga,was found living INSIDE the cells of developing Spotted salamander embryos while still in the eggs! How these algae get inside vertebrate cells has not been determined. However, previous research showed that eggs that did not contain algae in the surrounding jelly mass were slower to develop than those which had algae present.
There are ways in which vertebrate cells eliminate foreign material and this discovery could help scientists explore what regulates this process.

Read more at: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100730/full/news.2010.384.html

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.

You’ve heard the saying, adapt or die. How about adapt and die? Reading a new scientific report by David B. Wake and Vance T. Vredenburg, on the mass extinction that Amphibian Ark aims to avert, a new thought surfaces: Amphibians outlived the dinosaurs because of their adaptability — hey, they’re the Transformers of the animal world — yet the sensitive biomechanisms that make adaptability possible also put them at the greatest risk from new dangers created by man. Hence, their suffering today represents a canary in the coal mine warning us that the planet is in trouble. I recommend reading the full story from the National Academy of Sciences (of USA), but I pasted an excerpt below. And, the Los Angeles Times published a piece on it.

Why this should be has perplexed amphibian specialists. A large number of factors have been implicated, including most prominently habitat destruction and epidemics of infectious disease (19); global warming also has been invoked as a contributing factor (20). What makes the amphibian case so compelling is the fact that amphibians are long-term survivors that have persisted through the last four mass extinctions. Paradoxically, although amphibians have proven themselves to be survivors in the past, there are reasons for thinking that they might be vulnerable to current environmental challenges and, hence, serve as multipurpose sentinels of environmental health. The typical life cycle of a frog involves aquatic development of eggs and larvae and terrestrial activity as adults, thus exposing them to a wide range of environments. Frog larvae are typically herbivores, whereas adults are carnivores, thus exposing them to a wide diversity of food, predators, and parasites. Amphibians have moist skin, and cutaneous respiration is more important than respiration by lungs. The moist, well vascularized skin places them in intimate contact with their environment. One might expect them to be vulnerable to changes in water or air quality resulting from diverse pollutants. Amphibians are thermal-conformers, thus making them sensitive to environmental temperature changes, which may be especially important for tropical montane (e.g., cloud forest) species that have experienced little temperature variation. Such species may have little acclimation ability in rapidly changing thermal regimes. 

 
 

 

On this morning after Earth Day, check out the new campaign by Amphibian Ark to mobilize people so that we can stop the mass extinction of amphibians. Here’s the news release and fact sheet. Here are 50 ways we can help.

When forests are cleared, it’s the end of the frogs, toads, and salamanders that live there. Maybe not. A new study from the University of Missouri begs to differ, and points to an approach to harvesting timber that can let amphibians retain their residency. Excerpts from news release:

The results of the study present two primary implications for timber management that would benefit amphibians. First, timber harvesters producing clear cuts that are small (within a six-acre area) may improve the chances of amphibians being able to move out of the area until sufficient reforestation occurs. Second, if harvesters leave coarse woody debris (everything over two inches in diameter) on the ground, it will contribute to the amphibians’ survival by creating food, maintaining moisture and providing shelter.

(Ray Semlitsch, professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science) said amphibians are potential bio-indicators of ecosystem health and are the most threatened vertebrate type globally, with one-third, or 1,896 species, currently at risk of extinction. Studies done in the past indicate harvesting forest is particularly detrimental. Amphibians are very sensitive to water loss, heat and changes in temperature. They have no natural barrier to water loss. Semlitsch found that amphibians may be able to react to changes in their environment in an effort to alleviate risk in ways previously undocumented.

“I am trying to develop general principles to help us manage our natural resources without exploiting them to a point where ecosystems begin to fall apart,” he said. “I am not against cutting trees, but let’s do it in a way that’s responsible and will maintain forests and the timber industry, as well as amphibians, for generations to come.”

You learn something every day. I didn’t know that the Great Smoky Mountains in the U.S. are regarded by many to be the salamander capital of the world. No wonder the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources agency are concerned, to say the least, about the spread of chytrid and pressures on amphibian species in the state. Full story from Chattanooga Times Free Press is here. Key excerpts:

The fungus has been documented in Tennessee salamanders, but not yet in frogs, though surveyors have found the fungus in frogs in Georgia within the last year…

Pandy English, a wildlife diversity coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said frogs and salamanders are the new “canaries in the coal mine.” “They are bioindicators,” she said. “If they are dying off then there could be toxins or other things going on that we need to know about.” 

Tennessee’s 56 species of salamanders, a close cousin to the frog, “are in a way really more of a concern than the frogs because we have many species that are found nowhere else in the world,” said herpetologist Lisa Powers, owner and operator of Frog Haven Farm near Nashville.

Contrary to the report, though, the source of chytrid fungus really isn’t a mystery. It’s indigenous to southern Africa and was accidentally exported around the world in the mid 1900s. Here’s previous post on that.

There are, arguably, three great questions about the amphibian crisis. The good news is that all are being researched.

  1. How can we slow down, even neutralize, the ravage of species caused by amphibian chytrid fungus? This naturally occurring fungus broke out of Africa 60-or-so years ago on the backs and littled webbed feet of the African Clawed Frog which was being exported as a human pregnancy test. It’s lethal to most species it contacts, resulting in a thinning of frog families to the  point that the few remaining males and females can’t find each other to mate.
  2. What is the cause-and-effect of global warming on this mass extinction? If chytrid is the cryptonite to frogs, are warmer temperatures a steroid shot for chytrid? Or, are amphibians just getting worn out by the heat and, in such a weakened state, more susceptible to all sorts of diseases and enemies?
  3. What happens to ecosystems when amphibians disappear because of #1 and #2? In other words, what is the role of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians in the food web? When you remove them from an acre of rainforest, or a bubbling brook, what happens to the populations of insects, fish, snakes, lizards, birds. What happens to plant life? Answer this, definitively, and just watch the funds for Amphibian Ark and the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan roll in from foundations and companies that care about general conservation and hunting and fishing. 

(The effects of pollution is probably the fourth big question, I know, but so much has already been figured out about that.)

Let me introduce the research team (the only team?) that is studying The Big Three Questions. The team is led by Karen Lips, an associate professor in the Department of Zoology at Southern Illinois University (SIU Carbondale). She charted the path that chytrid has cut through Central America and presented her insights about the fungus at the recently convened chytrid conference in Tempe, Arizona.  Next summer the team resumes studying climate change impacts, and they’ll even safely remove amphibian species from small ecosystems to chronicle what happens to the food web. Here’s her Web page that toplines some of her research

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