Scientists warn the state of amphibians worldwide continues to rapidly deteriorate, according to a new study. Researchers found that over 40 percent of the world’s more than 8,000 amphibian species could face extinction in the coming decades. This makes amphibians the most endangered group of vertebrates in the world today.
“When considering all threatened amphibians, the most commonly documented threats are types of habitat loss and degradation, with the top three being agriculture (77% of species impacted), timber and plant harvesting (53%), and infrastructure development (40%),” wrote the study authors.
“Climate change effects (29%) and disease (29%) are other common threat types. Although these are important findings, they do not account for the severity and scope of these threats.”
In tracing the evolutionary journey of amphibians, the researchers found an escalating trend of extinctions.
Researchers recorded a mere 23 species as extinct in 1980, and that number surged to 37 by 2022.
Distinct species like the gastric-brooding frogs, which had the unique capability of incubating their eggs in their stomachs, have unfortunately been lost forever.
‘As humans drive changes to our planet, amphibians are becoming climate captives, unable to move very far to escape the climate change-induced increase in frequency and intensity of extreme heat, drought and hurricanes,” said study lead author Jennifer Luedtke Swandby.
While habitat loss, largely due to agriculture, impacts an estimated 77% of amphibians, it is only the main cause of decline and extinction for about a third of species.
Diseases, particularly chytridiomycosis caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, have historically been more destructive, causing abrupt declines.
Notably, the sharp-snouted day frog from Queensland, Australia, was wiped out within a decade of being infected, marking its extinction in 2021.
However, the changing climate has now emerged as a dominant factor. The climate crisis accounts for declines and extinctions in more than 40% of amphibian species.
Climate change’s multifaceted impacts, such as rising temperatures and prolonged droughts, are challenging amphibians’ survival, given their reliance on moisture.
Moreover, changing weather patterns can catalyze the spread of diseases.
The findings of the study indicate that amphibians have the highest extinction risk among major animal groups listed on the conservation Red List.
Salamanders and newts emerge as particularly vulnerable within this group.
Despite these bleak statistics, there is a glimmer of hope. Over the past 40 years, focused conservation initiatives have revived 60 species.
An additional 57 species seem to be making a natural comeback, potentially developing resistance against diseases.
Yet, the conservation status of many remains uncertain, with over 600 awaiting assessment and 900 listed as “data deficient.”
‘Though thousands of amphibian species are known about, we know very little about their ways of life of many of them,” said study co-author Dr. David Gower, an expert in amphibians at the Natural History Museum.
‘Without detailed information on their population trends or where they live, it is difficult to accurately categorize species on the Red List. Overcoming this is a major challenge in amphibian conservation biology.’
‘We’re in the process of adding new species to the global inventory and re-assessing the conservation status of known species,” said Dr. Loader. “These assessment data help to prioritize conservation action in areas where we see most evidence of change and need.’
The full paper was published in the journal Nature. Over 100 scientists from across the globe provided insights to back this comprehensive study.
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