Frogs are dying in record numbers. Now you can help scientists study this problem.

Illustration for article titled Frogs are dying in record numbers. Now you can help scientists study this problem.

For decades, zoologists have been dismayed to watch frog and other amphibian populations shrinking dramatically all over the world. In some areas, as many as a third of the local frog species are threatened with extinction. Some scientists say it's more like half of all species.

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The cause of the rapid fall in frog populations is undoubtedly from toxins in the environment, but also from a fast-spreading, deadly fungus. This fungus, or Chytridiomycosis, jumps across species and kills a huge number of frogs infected with it. Basically, this fungus plague is affecting frogs more and more frequently as their environments shrink and they get thrown together. It's also possible that their immune systems have been compromised by pollutants.

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But we can't understand this worldwide problem without studying it further. It does us no good to say "frogs are dying" without really being able to offer compelling evidence of the scope of the problem. That's where you come in. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums runs a program called FrogWatch that trains citizen scientists to track frogs in their local areas to see whether the population has been affected.

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums:

Frogs and toads have been vitally important in the field of human medicine and compounds from their skin are currently being tested for anti-cancer and anti-HIV properties. Frogs and toads also play an important role, serving as both prey and predator, in wetland ecosystems and are considered indicators of environmental health. Many previously abundant frog and toad populations have experienced dramatic population declines both in the United States and around the world and it's essential that scientists understand the scope, geographic scale, and cause of these declines.

This summer is a good time to join up. While you take hikes, you can also help scientists track frog populations. Check out FrogWatch to learn more.

(Spotted on Citizen Science!)

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DISCUSSION

I work with Chytrid (Bd) tracking in alpine (Boreal) toad populations in the western US. This article has good intentions, although could be even more harmful should people decide to tromp around in areas where they normally would not.

Bd is likely spread through invasive species that are resistant to the fungus, as well as native species that have resistance. There is also a high likely hood that the fungus is spread by anglers, hikers, and even biologists working in riparian areas. Increasing traffic to these areas that are normally human-free has the possibility of doing more harm than good.

I admit I didn't follow the link and read what the FrogWatch people advise but here are a few easy steps that people can do even if they aren't trying to find amphibians. Disinfect waders and boots when moving from one body of water to another (soaking boots and waders in a bleach or 409 solution and then rinsing), don't pick up the frog or toad species with bare hands, and more importantly — however unlikely — don't try to move amphibian species from one area to another with hopes of restoring populations.

Use good judgement and try to identify the species with as little disturbance as possible.