What we lose when we lose the world’s frogs - Vox
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Historically, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog was the most abundant amphibian in the mountain range that encompasses Yosemite National Park. “If all of the trees in the sierra Nevadas suddenly disappeared, people would be very concerned,” Roland Knapp, a research biologist at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute, says. Truly nothing.” And a great percent of the losses are due to one disease: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, sometimes called BD or the chytrid fungus, which is one of the biggest threats to amphibians worldwide.
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“And we lost that.” frog like the Rabbs’ and other amphibians are dying off at an alarming rate. It’s estimated that 200 species of frogs have gone extinct since the 1970s, and many fear it’s a harbinger of greater biodiversity loss that will come for birds, fish, and mammals too. Ecologists fear that the planet is in the midst of a mass extinction — the sixth in the long history of life on Earth. And it’s looking like amphibians are the most at-risk class of vertebrates. This is particularly disturbing because amphibians — which include frogs, salamanders, and caecilians (they look like worms crossed with snakes) — have been around for hundreds of millions of years. “During the great extinctions of the dinosaurs in the Pleistocene, amphibians made it through with no appreciable effect,” Mendelson says. “So they’re not the most delicate creatures in the world. but the world has gotten so bad now that even the amphibians can’t tolerate it.” Broadly, that’s how it looks. But as with most stories of biology, this one is not so simple. some amphibians are revealing resilience even under significant threat. These amphibians are teaching humans critical lessons about what we need to do to protect and save more of them from extinction. To put it another way: As one frog dies, another one (the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog) is making a surprising comeback, offering a glimmer of hope for the amphibian Armageddon. Amphibians have been dying off for decadesHerpetologists — the people who study amphibians — started to realize amphibians were dying off at an abnormally fast rate in the 1980s. “At the first World Congress of herpetology in 1989, a number of amphibian biologists were sharing anecdotes, and they were all strikingly similar,” Mendelson recalls. The scientists were telling one another that they were having trouble locating known populations of frogs. And it wasn’t just from one country: there were mysterious disappearances in costa Rica, the United States, Australia. Something was happening. So the scientists set out to document what was happening around the world. It was a massive effort that culminated in a worldwide comprehensive survey of 5,000-plus species of amphibian published in two thousand and four in Science. “The results demonstrate that amphibians are far more threatened than either birds or mammals,” the report stated. In all, it found 30 percent of amphibian species were at risk for extinction. More surveys followed. IN the merge States, a two thousand and thirteen national survey found the amphibian populations declined at a rate of three point seven percent a year from two thousand and two to two thousand and eleven But what was surprising about those results was that the losses were not only taking “threatened” or “endangered” species. Even populations thought to be at low risk were declining at a rate of two point seven percent a year. Even in protected conservation areas, there are declines. IN 2010, a survey of 25,780 species of vertebrates found that forty-one percent of the amphibians were threatened with extinction. “On a per-species basis, amphibians are in an especially dire situation, suffering the double jeopardy of exceptionally high levels of threat coupled with low levels of conservation effort,” the study noted. (Note: There’s some disagreement over whether the losses in amphibians are truly worse than the losses in birds and mammals. It’s just incredibly hard to do comprehensive assessments of all the thousands of species in the world for an exact comparison. At the very least, it’s safe to say that the amphibians’ situation is dire, if not somewhat worse than other animals.) What’s killing the amphibians? Historically, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog was the most abundant amphibian in the mountain range that encompasses Yosemite National Park. Now most visitors to Yosemite will never see one. “If all of the trees in the sierra Nevadas suddenly disappeared, people would be very concerned,” Roland Knapp, a research biologist at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute, says. That’s what happened with the frogs: Ninety-five percent of them have vanished. “You’ve gone from hundreds of animals or thousands, to nothing. Truly nothing.” And a great percent of the losses are due to one disease: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, sometimes called BD or the chytrid fungus, which is one of the biggest threats to amphibians worldwide. “The chytrid is know to infect pretty much every species of amphibian,” says Reid Harris, a biologist and director of international disease mitigation at the amphibian Survival Alliance. Not all species succumb to it, but the ones that do die off in horrifying fashion. It’s thought that BD is the main culprit behind the two hundred frog species extinctions seen in the past several decades. That’s "the greatest disease-driven loss of biodiversity ever documented," the journal Naturereported in 2012. BD is so devastating because it attacks frogs’ skin, which isn’t just an outer covering for these creatures. It's also their respiratory system and their excretory system. A chytrid infection is the equivalent of a disease in humans that takes out the lungs, kidneys, and skin in one shot. The spores burrow a few cell layers down into an amphibian’s slick skin and then start reproducing inside the skin cells. The spores then burst out of the cells and can infect other cells, or other frogs. The spores disrupt the crucial exchange of salts across the frog’s skin. 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