On the occasion of Darwin’s 200th birthday on Feb. 12, 2009 (last Thursday), a National Science Foundation researcher spoke at length about Amphibian Ark and the “relentless waves of amphibian die-offs in  Central America.”  Here’s the story in New York Times. The story contains a sobering statistic: when Darwin was living, there were 1 billion people on earth; today, there are 1 billion teenagers. How we learn to protect the earth’s diversity as we march toward adding the population equivalent of two Chinas by 2050 is arguably our greatest challenge. Excerpt:

He talked about the “Amphibian Ark” project, which grew out of an amphibian conservation summit focused on the die-offs, in which samples of frogs from areas ahead of the approaching fungus were taken for safekeeping and breeding to zoos and aquariums – perhaps to be re-established in the wild at some point.


Good perspective to spur people into action on the amphibian crisis from the scientists of a new study, as reported in ScienceDaily:

“An ancient organism, which has survived past extinctions, is telling us that something is wrong right now. We humans may be doing fine right now, but they are doing poorly. The question, really, is whether we’ll listen before it’s too late.”

– Vance T. Vredenburg, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University

ScienceDaily has summarized a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives that shows atrazine harms the development of organs, such as the heart, in baby amphibians.  Other studies have pointed to problems that the common weed killer has caused with other stages of development, but this is the first to study the impact on organ morphogenesis, or organ development. The scientists did the experiment on Xenopus laevis, or African clawed frogs. That species is the one that was shipped around the world in the 1930s and 1940s for human pregnancy tests — and unwittingly carried with it the amphibian chytrid fungus. You decide if that’s ironical.

(Credit: Purdue University photo/Andrew DeWoody)

Frogs just can’t catch a break. First there was pollution, then amphibian chytrid fungus, then global warming. And now: road kill.  

A Purdue University inventory of road kill during a 17-month period on a particular Indiana road tallies the body count:

  • 79 opossums, the most common mammal;
  • 36 chimney swifts, most common bird;
  • 35 common garter snakes, most common reptile;
  • 43 raccoons;
  • 4 white-tailed deer;
  • 9,300 amphibians

This is according to a new, Science Daily news release that says 95 percent of the road kill was frogs and toads and salamanders. Here’s an excerpt:

The dead included 142 road-killed eastern tiger salamanders, a finding DeWoody said was troubling.

“The absolute number might not look that large, but most of these individuals were mature, up to 10 years old,” DeWoody said. “Many of them were gravid, or females bearing eggs on an annual trip to breeding grounds where they often lay 500 to 1,000 eggs. This could make a potentially big difference for the population.”

Bruce Blumberg, associate professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California at Irvine, has found a possible connection between exposure to industrial pollution and obesity. Stories here and here. Exposing female frogs to mild doses of the pollution — specifically, toxic compounds called obesogens — made them “really fat.” According to the story, they can be found in plastics used in drinking bottles and many other food-bearing materials. Of course, the animal that most greatly experiences the world through its skin —  the amphibian — is what led to this discovery.