Wonders of the Wild: Amphibians
There’s no doubt that amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians) are among Mother Nature’s most wild and wonderful contributions to life on our planet. Their colors range from black chevrons on a golden back, bright red eyes and pale blue legs, a bright-orange-and-black-speckled belly, and sometimes even transparent. They can be warty, smooth, spiky, and everywhere in between, and can be as small as the tip of a pencil and as big as a golden retriever.
In addition to being fascinating, amphibians have significant ecological, evolutionary, cultural, economic, scientific, medicinal and educational importance. As predator and prey, they play a critical role both in controlling pests and ensuring the health of other species. They are also particularly sensitive to even small changes in their environment, making them bellwethers for ecosystems that may be headed toward trouble.
Their message these days is loud and clear: humans need to change their relationship with our planet, and fast. Habitat destruction and degradation, pollution, invasive species, the pet trade and overexploitation, and especially infectious disease have resulted in threatening nearly half of all 8,000 known amphibian species with the risk of extinction. Amphibians are among the most threatened vertebrate groups, and as human activity drives them to extinction, we also risk losing the wildlife that feed on them, and the balance they bring to critical ecosystems.
The Re:wild Solution
Addressing the many threats that amphibians face may seem overwhelming, but Re:wild and our partners are committed to helping in even the most dire of cases, when others might give up.
Take Romeo, the world’s loneliest frog. In 2008, a team of biologists in Bolivia brought in a single male Sehuencas Water Frog—Romeo—hoping to create a conservation breeding program for the traditionally common species ahead of population crashes they were seeing with other species. Ten years later, Re:wild partner K’ayra Center at Alcide d’Orbigny Natural History Museum and other researchers had not been able to locate a single other individual Sehuencas Water Frog. On an expedition to a Bolivian cloud forest at the end of 2018, Re:wild and the museum rediscovered the Sehuencas Water Frog in the wild, including a Juliet, bolstering hope for the future of the species. Romeo is the flagship animal for Water Frog conservation; a group of amphibians Re:Wild is committed to conserving.
Re:wild is also working with partners to spearhead efforts to develop and foster the first-ever coordinated regional harlequin toad conservation network. Harlequin toads are the jewels of the forest across the Neotropics, beautiful and charismatic amphibians that come in a rainbow of colors. They are also among the most imperiled groups of amphibians as a result of a deadly infectious disease called chytridiomycosis that has been documented spreading across the tropics since the mid ‘80s. The Atelopus Survival Initiative is pooling its expertise and resources to make sure we don’t lose these jewels forever.
Underpinning decisions about the most effective amphibian conservation efforts is the Global Amphibian Assessment; the process that defines the extinction risk of every single species of amphibian across the world. Run by the Amphibian Red List Authority of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) to update the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this assessment is where the coordinated global response to the extinction crisis begins. Re:wild supports the IUCN SSC ASG to ensure that it can continue providing relevant extinction risk assessments for all known amphibian species to the global community through the IUCN Red List.
As one of the partners in the Key Biodiversity Partnership, Re:wild also focuses on KBA designations that help safeguard amphibians. Arguably the highest priority subset of KBAs are those holding Critically Endangered or Endangered species restricted to a single site globally, termed Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites. Unless properly conserved, AZE sites are places where species extinctions will occur, yet fewer than half are currently protected. Re:wild has been a key partner in a multi-year project updating the Alliance for Zero Extinction sites for amphibians, including identifying new critical sites where protection is required to prevent extinctions.