“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

Read, learn, enjoy this new AP story. And also here is link to the auction page.

Conservationists auction off frog naming rights/Associated Press

 A girl has to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, but how to interpret the gesture when the prince makes a bid to name a frog in her honor?

That’s one possible scenario, thanks to a new online auction allowing a high bidder to win the right to name a frog species.

Amphibian Ark, an international collaboration of conservationists working to save frogs, is organizing the effort to auction the naming rights to five species of frogs on the Internet – one frog a month for five months.

Profits will fund efforts to protect frogs at a crucial time, said Kevin Zippel, Amphibian Ark’s program director. Amphibians have been on the planet for 360 million years, but based on recent science, “This is the greatest extinction rate they’ve ever faced,” he said.

The first frog that a member of the public can name – for the right price – is from Ecuador, a member of the Osornophryne genus.

The frog was discovered in 1997, and there are no living members of the species in captivity, but whoever wins the online auction will be able to determine its species name. The profits raised will go to fund work to save frogs in Ecuador. Details on the other four frogs, and where the money will go to protect frogs, have not yet been released.

The hope is that auctioning off the naming rights could raise between $100,000 to $200,000 for each of the five frogs.

The estimate is based on prices paid in the past in separate efforts for the rights to name animals, like the $650,000 an Internet casino paid in 2005 to name a monkey species for the benefit of a national park in Bolivia. Its moniker? GoldenPalace.com.

“The potential to raise money to save these species outweighed any criticism we might get that we’re selling out,” said Zippel, speaking by telephone from Auburn, N.Y., where he lives.

A description of the new species will be published in a professional journal, and its scientific name will need to conform to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Zippel offered an example: If Donald Trump were a winning bidder of a frog from Rana genus, it wouldn’t be named “Rana Donald Trump,” but “Rana donaldtrumpi.”

The Internet naming contest at http://www.amphibianark.org/ is just one of many ways Amphibian Ark is trying to raise awareness about the plight of the frog. The group has dubbed 2008 the “Year of the Frog,” with zoos and other organizations around the world holding events to educate about the threats frogs are facing.

From one-third to one-half of the planet’s amphibian species are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, over collection and disease, including a fatal fungus.

Scientists say they have to figure out a way to rid the environment of chytrid fungus or help frogs develop a resistance. The frogs can be cured with a fungicide, but they’ll be affected again upon re-entry.

Amphibian Ark wants 500 frogs from 500 species to be held in biosecure facilities around the world. Jeffrey Bonner, president of the Saint Louis Zoo and Amphibian Ark’s immediate past chair, called the effort “protective custody for frogs.”

Profits from the auction of the first frog will be donated to the lab of Dr. Luis Coloma in Ecuador for frog conservation work.

Researchers don’t know if they’ll be able to save the frog whose naming rights are being auctioned. That’s because they don’t know how many are still in the wild.

But, Zippel said, the funds will go to study how many of those frogs remain in the field and to help efforts to conserve it and other frogs in Ecuador.

Bonner called the online auction “just lovely.” He said, “It’s such a wonderful idea. I hope it works.” If $500,000 were raised, “we could save a lot of animals,” he said.

Amphibian Ark is a partnership between the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Conservation Union.

A solid review of the amphibian crisis in a Sunday’s issue of Dallas Morning News, with quote from Jeff Corwin. Excerpts:

 Amphibians, most of which breathe through their skin, are vulnerable to virtually all the modern environmental ills: pollution, deforestation, pesticides and a deadly fungus known as chytrid.

“It’s not just amphibians that are crashing,” said Paul Crump, a reptile and amphibian keeper at the Houston Zoo. “We’re all crashing. Birds. Fish. Mammals. But the amphibians are the first to go. They serve as a smack in the face for us.”

The Year of the Frog was designated by Amphibian Ark, a conservation group started by the World Conservation Union and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, to draw attention and money to the problems of amphibians.

Frogs and other amphibians are “jump” species, a link between water- and land-dwellers. They also hold a pivotal spot on the food chain, eating mosquitoes, other insects and rodents, while being eaten by snakes, birds and mammals.

More vulnerable to environmental changes than most other species, they serve as an early-warning system of sorts, dying off before other groups are affected.

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