Amphibian declines have multiple causes with no simple solution

April 26th, 2011 - 5:52 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Apr 26 (ANI): A new study has found that amphibian declines around the world have multiple causes that are still not fully understood, and which have no simple solutions.

Researchers said the search for a single causative factor is often missing the larger picture, and approaches to address the crisis may fail if they don’t consider the totality of causes - or could even make things worse.

No one issue can explain all of the population declines that are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and much faster in amphibians than most other animals.

The amphibian declines are linked to natural forces such as competition, predation, reproduction and disease, as well as human-induced stresses such as habitat destruction, environmental contamination, invasive species and climate change.

“An enormous rate of change has occurred in the last 100 years, and amphibians are not evolving fast enough to keep up with it,” Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University and an international leader in the study of amphibian declines, said.

“We’re now realizing that it’s not just one thing, it’s a whole range of things. With a permeable skin and exposure to both aquatic and terrestrial problems, amphibians face a double whammy.

“Because of this, mammals, fish and birds have not experienced population impacts as severely as amphibians - at least, not yet,” Blaustein said.

The totality of these changes leads these researchers to believe that the Earth is now in a major extinction episode similar to five other mass extinction events in the planet’s history.

And amphibians are leading the field - one estimate indicates they are disappearing at more than 200 times that of the average extinction rate.

Efforts to understand these events, especially in the study of amphibians, have often focused on one cause or another, such as fungal diseases, invasive species, an increase in ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion, pollution, global warming, and others.

All of these and more play a role in the amphibian declines, but the scope of the crisis can only be understood from the perspective of many causes, often overlapping.

And efforts that address only one cause risk failure or even compounding the problems, the researchers said.

“Given that many stressors are acting simultaneously on amphibians, we suggest that single-factor explanations for amphibian population declines are likely the exception rather than the rule,” the researchers wrote in their report.

“Studies focused on single causes may miss complex interrelationships involving multiple factors and indirect effects,” they stated.

The scientists said that the problems facing amphibians are a particular concern, because they have been one of Earth’s great survivors - evolving about 400 million years ago before the dinosaurs, persisting through ice ages, asteroid impacts, and myriad other ecological and climatic changes.

Their rapid disappearance now suggests that the variety and rate of change exceeds anything they have faced before.

“Modern selection pressures, especially those associated with human activity, may be too severe and may have arisen too rapidly for amphibians to evolve adaptations to overcome them,” the researchers concluded.

The study has been published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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