Applause applause !!! for Conservation International’s new Biodiversity Hotspots Web site and continued focus on biodiversity. The Web site invites us to explore the most critical regions for protecting the planet’s animal and plant life. What an uphill battle right now for biodiversity crusaders, though, as the world is distracted, to put it mildly, by the economic crisis. I used the Google Trends tool to see how much we’re using the Web to learn more about the economic crisis vs. what is happening to the creatures on this planet, and the snapshot below really tells the story. Note the upswing in Web activity re: the economy, the parallel track for global warming (which has a connection to economic activity) and the lack of uptick on biodiversity terms like extinction and endangered species.

Everybody, we just have to keep at it. And Conservation International is setting a great example for creativity and commitment.


Newly discovered glass frog species, photo courtesy Conservation International of Colombia, Marco Rada

Newly discovered glass frog species, photo courtesy Conservation International of Colombia, Marco Rada

 Click here for slide show of the new species discovered in Colombia. I just posted a comment about it here.

Orange-legged rain frog (copyright Getty)

Orange-legged rain frog (copyright Getty)

When we hear great news like the discovery of ten new species of amphibians in Colombia, reported earlier this month, it’s truly a moment for hope in the struggle to prevent the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. The scientific director of Conservation International Colombia, Jose Vicente Rodriguez-Mahecha, told the London Telegraph: “Without a doubt, this region is a true Noah’s Ark.” One of the new species is pictured above.

Yet the frog killer fungus, chytrid, is present in Colombia, but thankfully, and according to last March’s chytrid map in Nature magazine, it’s not causing mortalities there (but it does in neighboring Venezuela and Brazil). Remember that chytrid is toxic to the vast majority of amphibian species, but not all. The species in Colombia that are not susceptible to chytrid offer further hope that an antidote for mass application can be found.

Cool guys talk about cool frogs and the amphibian crisis. Why isn’t this on prime time?

“It’s my job to be optimistic, but it’s a scary prospect. It’s difficult enough to convince people to save an elephant or a gorilla. It’s much harder to get them to care about a tiny tree frog.” 

Piotr Naskrecki, those of us who love amphibians know how you feel. I’ve been reading a gorgeous photography and essay book, The Smaller Majority, by Piotr Naskrecki. I emphasize that the book is more than scores of amazing photographs. Naskrecki, the director of Conservation International’s Invertebrate Diversity Initiative, and research associate at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, captures in words what so many of us with Amphibian Ark find so utterly frustrating as we attempt to draw attention to the crisis facing amphibians — and the seeming indifference to that plight. These are excerpts from the forward in the book I find so spot on:

“Most of animal life on Earth is small. Over 90 percent of known species are smaller than a human finger, smaller, in fact, than your fingernail. Our perspective on reality is severaly handicapped by our gargantuan size, rare giants surrounded by the smaller majority. Our enormous size prevents us from appreciating, or even noticing, most of what shares this planet with us and forces us to focus our attention on other equally large, or larger, creatures. We proclaim kinship with wolves and deer, even while we hold our breath before squeezing the trigger, and cultures across the globe revere eagles, bears, and lions, but few pay any attention to lizards and snails. Size is the great divider…

“Unlike most mammals, who live in a sensual world dominated by scents, our is a species that relies on  vision. Eyes help us make emotional connection with other people as well as other species. We prefer animals that can return our gaze, which puts many smaller organisms, some of which may have “too many” eyes or none at all, at a great disadvantage in the struggle for our affection.

“From pollination to seed dispersal, from soil production to waste removeal, and from water filtering to being food for others, invertebrates make Earth a livable planet. As tragic and unforgivable as it would be, the disappearance of mountain gorillas would have far smaller ecological repercussions than the extinction of a single species of savanna termite. We should never have to choose between these two species, of course.”

To learn more about Piotr’s work, check out this story in the Harvard University Gazette.

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.