Just like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, where canaries served as human sentinels in subterranean conditions, amphibians today are viewed by many as serving that same role for the terranean landscape. Because amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, are sensitive to habitat loss and environmental pollution, they have become the biological sentinels of the environment. Or at least so goes the story. As some may recall, acid rain, and the adverse effect of low pH on juveniles, was believed to be causing massive die-offs in places like the Northeast U.S.. And while environmental pollution is no doubt contributing to amphibian declines in some regions, scientists have concluded that amphibians may not be the best indicators of pollution. It turns out these die-offs are much complicated than first believed, and not isolated to single sources or events. In recent years, scientists have discovered another factor, a widespread fungus found globally, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), that is now recognized as contributing to the huge declines of amphibian populations around the world. The origin of Bd is believed to be Africa and the international trade of African clawed frogs. These frogs were very popular in the 70s and 80s with aquarium enthusiasts, and I confess to selling hundreds of them in the pet stores where I labored as a kid.
In any event, whether good environmental sentinels or not, the purpose of this post is to bring greater attention to the plight of amphibians around the world and the work of Susan Newman and Mary Jo Rhodes, whose blog, Frogs are Green, is helping to amplify the important work of conservationists, like Devin Edmonds, working hard to save frogs around the globe. Regardless of the various causes of decline, human activities in the vast majority of cases can be fingered in some way. And we have a moral obligation to help protect and preserve these species.