A recent report summarizing the findings of 500 scientists from 60 countries confirms that the world"s amphibian population is undergoing a die-off of unprecedented proportions, most likely as a result of a combination of human-caused environmental problems. According to researchers at the World Conservation Union, almost a third of the 5,743 known species of frogs, toads, newts and salamanders on Earth are facing extinction within the next few years.
“This level of decline is … extraordinary and serious because amphibians represent a very important part of the overall diversity of life. Since most amphibians feel the effects of pollution before many other forms of life, their rapid decline tells us that one of Earth’s most critical life support systems is breaking down," says Dr. Simon Stuart, who coordinated the study on behalf of the World Conservation Union.
Since amphibians have porous skin and require both clean land and water habitats, they are vulnerable to a wide range of pollutants and other environmental changes. While scientists cannot pinpoint one specific reason for the decline, they believe a combination of factors including pollution, human exploitation for food and medicine and habitat destruction are to blame.
But perhaps most surprising to biologists is that the decline is happening just as much in pristine protected areas—such as California"s Yosemite National Park and Costa Rica"s Monteverde Cloud Forest—as in more developed regions, suggesting that global threats like climate change might be playing a role as well. Whatever the culprits, scientists agree, the fate of amphibians does not bode well for other species dependent on Earth"s air, land and water for survival—including human beings.