The connection between frog deformities and pesticides and herbicides has been reported a lot. But here is a new study by Southern Illinois University in Carbondale that shows how little it really takes to harm amphibians. Imagine there was a pool of water in a farm pond that had the presence of only a trace (0.0000000003*) of pesticide ingredient edosulfan. That would be enough to kill half of the pond’s frog population. Take the 3 and make it 8, and every frog dies. Here’s the news release explaining the study: (*Double check my decimal conversion. What I’m attempting to show is 0.3 parts per billion.)

An excerpt from the release:

The foothill yellow-legged frog is especially susceptible to the chemicals such as endosulfans, which kill by essentially overloading the nervous system and rendering breathing muscles useless. Europe and Australia each have banned the use of the chemical as a pesticide, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also is studying the issue, Sparling said.

Sparling is optimistic humans can find ways to both farm on a large enough scale to feed the population and protect non-pest animals.

“To produce crops to provide for the world we have to use pesticides, and I’m not anti-pesticide,” he said. “But it’s important for us as scientists, agriculturalists and environmental protectors to make sure we continue developing pesticides that are as protective as possible of non-target animals as can be, both in the chemicals we use and application methods.”

Figuring out the “why”, “how”, “how fast” and “where next” behind the mass extinctions facing amphibian species is what Dr. Karen Lips does for a living. Now with the University of Maryland (previously with Southern Illinois University), Dr. Lips is a forensic ecologist. Cool job description. She has been charting the path of the spread of the killer fungus chytrid, and helping people understand what happens to ecosystems when frogs disappear. Here’s a new story about her work: read HERE. Excerpts I found interesting:

Once chytrid hits a region, the amphibian population can be wiped out within four months.”The rate of spread is about 22 km/year, so we have less than five years before they are all gone,” Lips says, referring to the remaining frog populations in Central America where she has been working as a”forensic ecologist” to predict the spread of chytrid throughout Costa Rica and Panama over the past 10 years.

“Once amphibians are eliminated from an ecosystem, everything else changes,” she explains. “Snakes disappear, algae grows, sediments accumulate and affect water quality, we don’t know yet how many of these changes are irrevocable.”

Great to see Dr. Karen Lips comment on the Panama Canal breach of the frog-killing fungus. This is from The Scientist, specifically from a post dated Oct. 17 (full story here):

“The findings are a concern because it means the fungus will continue to move through eastern Panama, and we only have a [limited time] to do what we can to save the frogs, collect data, watch,” Karen Lips, herpetologist at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, who monitors frogs populations in Panama, told The Scientist in an Email.

“There has never been any evidence that anything can stop the spread” of the fungus, Lips said. “It made it through Mexico and the Nicaraguan depression, so the narrow strip that is the canal is no significant barrier, nor did we expect it to be.”

Although the fungus may have spread across the canal on its own, the paper suggests that humans facilitated its jump across the canal, added Lips.