A study released Wednesday said that North American frogs, toads and other amphibious animals are disappearing so quickly that they are on track to be extinct from their natural habitats by 2033. According to the Denver Post, the study — which was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey — said that these types of animal populations are disappearing at a rate of 3.7 percent per year, although certain threatened species are expected to be extinct from their natural habitats within 6 years.
The researchers found that amphibian species are even rapidly declining in protected areas. Biologist Erin Muths of Ft. Collins, Colorado told the Post, “Even in what we consider pristine areas, we are seeing amphibian decline. If anything is doing poorly in an area we think is protected, that says something about our level of protection and about what may be happening outside those areas.”
The USGS study did not delve into the causes of the species’ shrinking numbers, but a report published by Oregon State University in 2011 titled “Catastrophic amphibian declines have multiple causes, no simple solution” said that a plethora of factors could be to blame.
“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,” reads the report.
OSU zoologist Andrew Blaustein said, “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.”
Amphibians play an important role in ecosystems, keeping insect populations in check and serving as prey animals to birds, snakes and other animals higher up in the food chain. Study co-author Stephen Corn told the Post, “Amphibians are going, but a lot of other species are going, too. Snakes are declining. Mammals are declining. We’re seeing bird declines. Amphibians are probably declining at a faster rate than other groups, and they may be a little more sensitive.”
Amphibious species, said Corn, “are a good example of the collapse of the world’s ecosystems that we seem to be seeing right now. We’re seeing a lot of species in a lot of places declining at the same time.”
[image of red-eyed tree frog via Shutterstock.com]