Amphibians - frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and the lesser-known caecilians - are the amongst the most threatened groups of animals on earth. They’re also very poorly-known, with new species being continuously discovered. Our limited and constantly changing understanding of amphibian diversity presents a challenge to their conservation, and we’re falling behind in understanding just how threatened amphibians are and which species most need our help. We need to update the global conservation status of amphibians regularly to ensure that we are making conservation decisions based on the most accurate and up-to-date information possible.

The global list of threatened species is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (the ‘Red List’). The Red List is vital for directing scarce conservation resources to the species and sites that need it the most, and for tracking the state of biodiversity. The Red List is also an important tool for funding allocation, in national development policies and legislation, and in multilateral agreements (see blog Why the official conservation status of species matters).

Keeping the Red List up-to-date is vital for global conservation prioritisation- in ensuring that scarce conservation resources get directed to the species and places that need it most. However, making sure conservation assessments up-to-date (no more than 10 years old) for the more than 7600 amphibian species known, and assessing the more than 100 new species amphibian species described every year is no small feat. This is particularly the case as much of the work assessing the conservation of amphibians is done on a voluntary basis.

Alarmingly, we found that almost two-thirds (61%) of all amphibian species have not had their global conservation status assessed or have out-of-date assessments. This is in contrast with the situation for birds and mammals, which are almost entirely up-to-date.

Efforts to keep the Red List up-to-date are primarily limited by funding, but other changes can also be made to speed up the assessment rate. In particular, we urge authors of species descriptions or taxonomic revisions to publish as much information relevant to Red List assessments as they can (for example estimate the range of the new species and detail any threats), and we encourage taxonomic journals to suggest inclusion of such information in their author guidelines. We also advise that experts that contribute to Red List Assessments be credited as authors on the assessments, like they would be in other scientific publications- rewarding valuable contributions.

It’s vital that we direct our resources towards the species that need it the most, and an up-to-date Red List is vital in making this happen.

Jodi Rowley
Curator of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology, AMRI & UNSW

Benjamin Tapley
Curator of Herpetology, Zoological Society of London
AMRI Visiting Research Fellow, Herpetology

More information:

  • Tapley, B., Michaels, C.J., Gumbs, R., Böhm, M., Luedtke, J., Pearce-Kelly, P., Rowley, J.J.L. (2018). The disparity between species description and conservation assessment: a case study in taxa with high rates of species discovery. Biological Conservation. 220: 209-214.
  • This publication was a collaboration between Australian Museum, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and the IUCN Amphibian Red List Authority.