Captive Breeding Seen as Lifeline for Amphibians
OSLO Amphibian experts are likely to urge captive breeding to slow a catastrophic rate of extinctions threatening a third of all species of frogs and salamanders, a leading scientist said.
Amphibians are more vulnerable than many other groups to pollution or a changing climate because they live both in water and on land and have a porous skin absorbing water and oxygen. A fungus is also wiping out many species.
A meeting of about 60 scientists in Washington from Sept. 17-20 is set to launch an action plan including captive breeding after a bleak 2004 assessment showed that a third of all species were under threat of extinction.
It also said that 122 of about 5,700 known species of amphibians, which also include newts, toads and some worm-like creatures, had disappeared since 1980.
"In many cases, captive colonies will be our only short-term way of avoiding extinction," said Claude Gascon, a senior vice-president at Conservation International who is convening the talks.
"We've identified about 12 different issues for a global amphibian action plan," he told Reuters. Apart from captive breeding, the plan includes extending protected areas, better management of fresh water and research into the fungus.
Captive breeding, likely in zoos and aquariums in the United States and Europe, would probably cost tens of million of dollars a year to save the 200 or so most threatened species. Funding could come from governments and international agencies.
Most threatened species are in Latin America, like colourful harlequin frogs, but creatures are threatened from the United States to Madagascar.
Gascon said the sharp decline of amphibians could be ominous for all life on the planet facing disruptions to habitats from human activities.
"They are like canaries down the mine," he said. While a third of amphibian species are under threat, comparable rates are 12 percent for birds and 23 percent for mammals.
One problem will be to slow the spread of the fungus, chytridiomycosis, which smothers amphibians' skin.
"The fungus is knocking out species...It impedes the ability of their skin to absorb oxygen and just suffocates them. It's the equivalent of us ingesting a fungus that takes over our lungs," Gascon said.
"We don't know if the fungus has always been present and is becoming more virulent because of other stresses. Or has it jumped from another group, like avian flu?" he said.
Amphibians, feted by Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth who made a broth including "eye of newt and toe of frog", have been on earth since the rise of the dinosaurs.