Amphibian Angst

Climate change, pesticide pollution decimate world amphibian population

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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)