Amphibians are a group of cold-blooded vertebrates which includes the frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and the lesser-known, worm-like caecilians. Most amphibians spend part of their life in water as aquatic larvae and part on land as terrestrial adults, but some species live permanently in water or permanently on land.
In all, there are over 6,000 amphibian species, and amphibians inhabit all continents except Antarctica, living in habitats ranging from rainforests to deserts. However, amphibians have undergone dramatic declines across the world and are currently facing an extinction crisis. Urgent conservation action is now needed to prevent many species from becoming extinct.
Almost half of all amphibian species are thought to be declining, and a third are at risk of extinction, making this the most threatened group of animals on the planet. Around 165 species are thought to have gone extinct in recent times, and many more are likely to be lost in our lifetime.
A staggering 500 species are facing threats that cannot be dealt with quickly enough to prevent their extinction, so are in desperate need of ex-situ conservation measures such as captive breeding.
Threats to amphibians
Amphibians face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and collection for food and the pet trade. With their thin, permeable skins, amphibians are also particularly sensitive to pollution.
However, one of the greatest threats to amphibians is the lethal fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which has contributed to the rapid disappearance of many amphibian species across the world. The spread of this deadly disease may be exacerbated by climate change.
Why conserve amphibians?
Amphibians play a key role in the food chain, both as predators and as prey for many other animals. They also help to control pests, benefitting human agriculture and reducing the spread of insect-borne diseases. As they are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, amphibians are also important indicators of the overall health of the environment.
In many cultures, amphibians are cherished as signs of life and good luck, and some amphibians are eaten as food. In addition, many amphibian species have substances in their skin that can have important medical uses.
As well as benefitting humans and ecosystems, amphibians are a fascinating group of animals in their own right, with many intriguing physical and behavioural adaptations.
A range of conservation measures are underway to try and combat the crisis facing amphibians. These include habitat protection, education and awareness campaigns, and captive breeding of threatened species. An action plan is also in place to coordinate global conservation efforts for amphibian species.
In 2010, the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) and Conservation International (CI) launched a global search for amphibian species which have been ‘lost’ to science. Named the ‘Search for Lost Frogs’, this has resulted in numerous expeditions and the rediscovery of some species previously feared extinct, including the Hula painted frog and the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad. However, many more species remain missing, underlining the desperate situation that many amphibians are facing.
Efforts are underway to breed some amphibians in captivity until they can safely be released back into the wild. Unfortunately, the global zoo community is only able to manage around ten percent of threatened amphibian species at best, and more work still needs to be done to safeguard these vitally important but highly threatened species.
How you can help
You can find out more about amphibian conservation and how you can help at the following websites:
- Amphibian Ark
- IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG)
- EDGE of Existence: Amphibians
- Amphibian Survival Alliance
- Conservation International – The Search for Lost Frogs
Think you’ve got what it takes to help save amphibians? Become a conservation professional and help save the Critically Endangered mountain chicken with Team WILD!
You can also find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive’s amphibian conservation page.
View more photos and videos of amphibians on ARKive.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author