WASHINGTON, DC (Sept. 20, 2005) -- A summit of leading scientists haveagreed to an action plan intended to save hundreds of frogs,salamanders and other amphibians facing extinction from familiarthreats such as pollution and habitat destruction, as well as alittle-known fungus wiping out their populations.
The Amphibian Conservation Summit held Sept. 17-19 concluded withproposals for a series of actions, including emergency responses tosave species under the greatest threat. More than 60 specialistsconvened by the Species Survival Commission of IUCN-The WorldConservation Union drafted the seven-page Amphibian Conservation ActionPlan declaration.
It responds to findings in last year's Global AmphibianAssessment (GAA) that almost a third of the world's amphibians are inserious trouble, with dramatic declines since the 1980s signaling oneof the worst extinction crises of our time.
"We still have time to save these threatened species ifappropriate conservation action is taken now," said Claude Gascon,chairman of the IUCN Global Amphibian Specialist Group and seniorvice-president of Conservation International (CI). "This is kind of aNoah's Ark situation for amphibians, particularly because of thefungus. It is so deadly where it occurs, there really is no hope ofsaving a lot of these species if we leave them in the wild."
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 1,856 ofthe 5,743 known amphibian species -- almost one in three -- arethreatened with extinction. By comparison, one in eight birds face asimilar level of threat, and one in four mammals.
The reasons are varied and all relate to the impact of humanson Earth -- habitat loss, pollution, over-harvesting of species, andclimate change. They often act in combination to exacerbate thedeclines.
In addition, a new and serious threat is a chytrid fungaldisease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis that kills amphibians byattacking their sensitive skins. The little known pathogen was firstidentified six years ago and so far cannot be controlled in the wild.
The action plan adopted at the summit addresses the key issuesaffecting the world's amphibians, and is divided into four keystrategies:
"As a short-term response to prevent extinctions, the establishmentof captive assurance colonies for the 200 or so most threatened speciesappears to be a promising option," said Simon Stuart, senior directorof the IUCN/Biodiversity Assessment Unit and leader of the GAAresearch. ''The good news is that the fungal disease can be eliminatedfrom captive colonies."
Captive breeding has been used successfully to conserve otherspecies, such as the Hawaiian goose and Mallorcan midwife toad. Theaction plan proposes a major expansion of such programs in countrieswhere species are the most threatened by the disease.
The plan also calls for research into the control andelimination of the fungal disease in the wild, as well as greaterhabitat protection, to maintain or re-establish viable wild amphibianpopulations in the future.
"Habitat destruction still remains the main threat toamphibians worldwide, and habitat conservation must continue as apriority" said Jim Collins, chair of the Declining Amphibian PopulationTask Force. "Amphibians often occur in relatively small areas and aremore susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss or degradation thanmost other vertebrates."
The sharp decline in amphibian populations could be ominous forall life on the planet. Because they live on land and in water, andtheir porous skins absorb oxygen and water, amphibians could be thefirst group to feel the effects of environmental changes frompollution, climate change and other causes.
Global Amphibian Assessment www.globalamphibians.org
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