Friday, September 10, 2010

SEARCH FOR THE LOST AMPHIBIANS


Teams of scientists around the world have launched an unprecedented search in the hope of rediscovering 100 species of "lost" amphibians – animals considered potentially extinct but that may be holding on in a few remote places – Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group announced.

This search, which is taking place in 14 countries on five continents, is the first ever coordinated effort to find such a large number of "lost" creatures and comes as global amphibian populations are suffering a shocking decline – with more than 30 per cent of all species threatened with extinction.

Many of the amphibians that the teams of scientists are looking for have not been seen in several decades, and establishing whether populations have survived or not is vital for scientists looking to understand the recent amphibian extinction crisis. Amphibians also provide many important services to humans such as controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops and helping to maintain healthy freshwater systems – the chemicals in amphibian skins have also been important in helping to create new drugs with the potential to save lives, including a painkiller 200 times more potent than morphine.

"Amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, so they are often an indicator of damage that is being done to ecosystems," explains Conservation International's Dr Robin Moore, who has organized the search for IUCN's Amphibian Specialist Group.

"But this role as the global 'canary in a coal-mine' means that the rapid and profound change to the global environment that has taken place over the last fifty years or so – in particular climate change and habitat loss – has had a devastating impact on these incredible creatures. We've arranged this search for 'lost' species that we believe may have managed to hang on so that we can get some definite answers - and hopefully learn about what has allowed some tiny populations of certain species to survive when the rest of their species has been lost."

The problems amphibians face from habitat loss have been massively exacerbated by a pathogenic fungus, which causes chytridiomycosis, a disease that has wiped-out entire populations of amphibians and in some cases whole species.

Dr Moore and his team have drawn up a list of the "top 10" species of the 100 being searched for that he believes would be particularly exciting to find. He said: "While it's very challenging to rate the importance of one species against another we have created this top 10 list because we feel that these particular animals have a particular scientific or aesthetic value."

Conservation International

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