A major scientific effort to search out frogs around the world is getting underway. Researchers will fan out across 14 countries as part of the U.N. summit on Biodiversity looking for rare frog and toad species that may be on the brink of extinction including the Gastric Brooding Frog. Anchor Katy Clark interviews Conservation International’s Robin Moore about the search for lost frogs. (Photo: David Crosse/Conservation Int.) Download MP3
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KATY CLARK: Now let’s turn to endangered, or perhaps extinct, amphibians. We’re talking frogs, toads, salamanders and the like. Dozens of amphibian species haven’t been seen in decades. Today, a major scientific effort was launched to locate them. Scientists are fanning out to 14 countries around the globe. Robin Moore is a biologist with Conservation International. He’s heading up this international amphibian search.
ROBIN MOORE: It’s really an unprecedented search of this scale for so many species that haven’t been seen for so long. And really we’re relying on our global network of experts around the world to go and search for these species. These are people that know these areas better than anyone and know these species better than anyone. So, we’re relying really on a global team to go out and actually find these species.
CLARK: Conservationists are looking for species thought to be extinct, but which may just be hanging on. Is that right?
MOORE: That’s correct. The criteria for this list was that these species had not been seen in over ten years. So, we’re really hoping that some of these are hanging on.
CLARK: While remaining optimistic, suppose you find a few of these species. Then what happens?
MOORE: The interesting thing will be the follow-up really, because once we find them we need to identify whether they’re threatened, where they’re hanging on, are they in a protected area? And then take action to either protect the area that they’re hanging on in. And we also want to support some research to find out what may have caused the species to have declined, why the species has hung on where others around it have disappeared and really help us understand a bit better the global decline and extinction of amphibians around the world.
CLARK: I’ve read that amphibians are the most threatened animals on the planet. Why so? What’s going on?
MOORE: Yeah, amphibians are more threatened than birds, more threatened than mammals. Around a third of 6,000 odd species of amphibian are threatened with extinction. One thing which has been impacting amphibians particularly badly is an emerging infectious disease. Now because amphibians have permeable skin, they’re particularly sensitive to changes in environment and also to attack from things like fungus. So, there’s a lethal cocktail of threats, habitat loss, this new disease and also climate change that are combining to really hit amphibians hard. And as a result, many species are suffering very rapid declines and even extinction.
CLARK: So why is this such a big deal? I mean why should we care about these frogs going extinct?
MOORE: Well, amphibians in general are of great importance to people because they play an important role in maintaining clean, fresh water systems. They also feed on insects such as crop pests and disease vectors such as mosquitoes which carry malaria. And they also hold a lot of potential biomedical properties that we can use. One substance isolated in the skin of a poison dart frog has been found to be 200 times more potent than morphine. Many such chemicals have been isolated from frogs. Potential cures for things ranging from skin cancer to HIV. So, there are really many more potential applications out there that we haven’t even yet scratched the surface of.
CLARK: Now, Dr. Moore, aside from the biologists who are going out into the field, can anyone get involved? I mean if there’s a biology class that counts bullfrogs in a local pond and snaps some photos, is that data useful to your survey?
MOORE: Yeah, it’s part of the campaign. Conservation International are inviting people to submit their own photos of amphibians. You know we’re not making this search exclusive. Who knows, one of these species may actually be found by someone who’s not a scientist. There’s nobody that knows their backyard better than the people who actually live there. So, we are really asking everyone to get involved and to take an interest in what is in their own backyard.
CLARK: Well, good luck with this. Are you going to be putting on your boots and heading out into the field yourself?
MOORE: Thank you. Yes, I’ll actually be heading to, first of all to Colombia, to search for four species that are on the list, including one that has not been seen since 1914. They’re often restricted to maybe one stream or one very small patch of habitat. And following that I’ll [INDISCERNABLE] Guatemala, Mexico and also to Haiti. So, I’ll be joining quite a few of these searches and hopefully we’ll come back with at least one positive result.
CLARK: Dr. Robin Moore of Conservation International. Again, good luck. Thank you.
MOORE: Thank you very much.
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