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.
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.
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!)