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