The first global update on amphibians in almost two decades reveals the emerging threat of climate change, and a continuing decline in the status of frogs and other amphibians. The study finds 1 in 5 Australian species, and 2 in 5 global species, threatened with extinction.
In 2004, the first global assessment of amphibians was carried out, and involving amphibian biologists around the world. That assessment for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was a pivotal moment – it was the first time we realized just how bad things were for amphibians. Now, almost two decades later and with much more information, including expertise from over 1000 experts across the world, we’ve completed another comprehensive assessment of amphibians – published recently in Nature and unfortunately, it’s not great news.
Sadly, the conservation status of amphibians worldwide continues to deteriorate. Back in 2004, 39.4% of all amphibian species assessed were threatened with extinction (Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable). Now, it’s 40.7%. To put that into perspective, the current percent of threatened mammals, reptiles and birds is 26.5%, 21.4% and 12.9%.
Horrifyingly, the number of Extinct amphibian species has also risen, from 33 in 2004 to 37 species. The four amphibian species added to the official list of extinct species are the Chiriquí Harlequin Toad (Atelopus chiriquiensis) from Costa Rica, the Sharp Snouted Day Frog (Taudactylus acutirostris) from Australia, and the frog Craugastor myllomyllon and the Jalpa False Brook Salamander (Pseudoeurycea exspectata) from Guatemala.
What’s driving the global decline of amphibian populations? Globally, the biggest threat remains habitat loss and degradation, but climate change effects are now thought to be impacting a quarter of all threatened amphibian species! This is perhaps not surprising as amphibians are highly sensitive to weather and climate, and over the last few decades, an increasing body of research has begun to reveal the impacts of a changing climate on biodiversity, but particularly amphibians.
But it’s not all bad news. Since 1980, 120 amphibian species became less threatened, with their conservation status improving! Positive changes were largely due to conservation actions such as habitat protection and management. Amphibians do often have the capability to ‘bounce back’ if given a helping hand.
This new global amphibian assessment sheds light on Australian frogs. Almost 1 in 5 of Australia’s frogs are threatened with extinction. However, the percent of threatened frogs varies across Australia, with New South Wales having the highest percent of species threatened – almost a third (29%). Major threats to frogs in Australia were identified as climate change (considered a threat to 87% of Australia’s threatened frog species) and invasive species.
Although this new amphibian assessment is sobering, it is a call to action and a reminder that we must up our game in terms of amphibian conservation. Amphibians are an important part of healthy ecosystems, and the consequences of losing amphibians are widespread. We know that we can work together and improve the situation for amphibian species, and we now have a better idea of what needs to be done to curb amphibian declines and extinctions.
Dr Jodi Rowley, Curator, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology, Australian Museum & UNSW Sydney.
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