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Amphibian Angst

Climate change, pesticide pollution decimate world amphibian population

When Kermit sang “it’s not easy being green,” he didn’t know the half of it. He only had to deal with a domineering, porcine girlfriend; meanwhile, his brother and sister amphibians are facing mass extinction thanks to a deadly convergence of global warming and pesticides contaminating the worldwide water supply.

Costa Rica has seen its once-noisy rivers choked silent by frog die-offs from a climate-change boosted fungal epidemic. Northern leopard frogs, who live in the boreal forest across North America, have faced dwindling numbers since the 70s thanks to atrazine, a popular herbicide that increases the prevalence of a parasitic worm that kills leopard frogs.

Frogs are declining even in national parks, where they enjoy a safe haven from pollution but not climate change. Yellowstone’s once vibrant population of frogs and salamanders has taken a dive since the 80s because rising temps have dried out the seasonal ponds they call home.

But while you may be glad you’re not a frog, there’s no real excuse for high-fiving: Because of their sensitivity to water, air, and temperature, amphibians often serve as environmental bellwethers for what could later befall other creatures.

Unless the trend reverses, summer nights could get a lot quieter in the near future.

—Ted Alvarez

World Without Frogs (SciAm)