Yesterday for ‘work’ I hiked to an alpine lake roughly around 6,700 ft. in Central Oregon.
The hike was short and as I approached the large lake, I could see smoke in the air, which made it hard to see the good views all around me. Although the views were encompassed by smoke, there was something on the ground that made me fill with joy. Frogs. Toads to be more accurate, which were in the thousands along the shore of the lake.
These toads were coming out of metamorphosis which means they were tiny, about the size of a fingernail, and those tiny toads (and other amphibians) are super important. They were the reason I traveled to this lake tucked in the Cascades.
My Master’s research is concentrating on two deadly amphibian diseases: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (also known as chytrid fungus), and Ranavirus. These two pathogens, along with other anthropogenic factors like habitat loss, pollution, climate change, etc, are causing many amphibian species to become threatened, endangered, and even extinct.
You may be asking yourself “why are amphibians important?” and I can tell you.
First, they are great environmental indicators of water quality. If they are dying of something found in water, then odds are we will probably suffer health issues too in some form.
Second, these creatures have so much untapped potential in medicine. For example, a big topic has been limb regeneration. Newts and salamanders can actually regrow tissues such as limbs and tails. Researchers think this may offer great insight to understanding how we may be able to regenerate lost cells, tissues, and even organs.
Third, they are a beautifully diverse group of animals. In the order Anura alone (frogs and toads) there are about 6,808 species worldwide. In addition to being gorgeous, amphibians have extremely complex life cycles, and are some of the most interesting to study organisms on the planet (in my opinion). Some salamanders don’t even have lungs (they breathe through their skin)! How cool is that?!
There are plenty of reasons why this group of vertebrates deserve our respect, but unfortunately they have not historically received it.
In 2004, Baillie et al. found that approximately one-third (32%) of amphibians are threatened, representative of 1,856 species. Nearly 168 species are believed to have gone extinct and at least 2,469 (43%) more have populations that are declining (AmphibiaWeb). And that was in 2004. Imagine what those numbers would look like now.
If you would like to know more about possible solutions go to AmphibiaWeb , do a quick search on Google, or talk to me!