At Frogs Are Green, we’ve always been interested in the interconnections between frogs and the Earth. How is climate change affecting amphibian populations? Are we listening to what frogs are telling us about the health of our planet?
Recently, we read an intriguing article in the Deccan Herald (India), about how a team of scientists in India are literally listening to frogs to understand the effect of climate change on amphibian populations.
Three scientists, K.S. Seshadri with T. Ganesh, and S. Devy, were doing research 100 feet above the ground in the canopy of the evergreen forest in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. While getting drenched with rain, they heard a cacophony of frog songs. Intrigued by the songs that the rains triggered, they initiated a program to study frog calls to both monitor populations and to study the affect of climate change on frogs.
Volunteer examines the monkey-proof enclosure for equipment to record frog calls. Photo credit: K. S. Seshadri
Frogs can tell us a lot about the weather. Their skin is extremely thin and sensitive; they respond to even small changes in atmospheric moisture and temperature. The scientists reasoned that an analysis of sound recordings, combined with readings from climate data loggers, could help improve our understanding of the impact of climate change.
Climate change seems to underlie many of the threats facing frogs worldwide. By monitoring the frog calls, an activity calendar for each of the indicator species can be made. This long-term monitoring will be invaluable in understanding the greater impact of climate change and also might help to save frog species.
Work station studying frog calls, high up in the forest canopy. Photo credit K. S. Seshadri
As the Deccan Herald put it: “Will the croak alarm finally wake us from our ignorant slumber? The answer lies in the future.”
Today is Save the Frogs Day, organized and created by conservation biologist Dr. Kerry Kriger. Tune in to hear an interview today with Dr. Kriger at 4:30 US Eastern or 1:30 PST (Sirius 112/XM 157) on Martha Stewart Living Radio.
As it’s been almost a year since we began the Frogs Are Green blog, we thought we’d share some thoughts about it with you. At first when we told our friends and family we were starting a blog to increase awareness about the global amphibian decline, they were a bit mystified, even amused. But I’m happy to say that a year later, almost all have become enthusiastic supporters. So we’d like to give you a few “talking points” in case you come across people who say with skepticism—frogs needs saving? Huh?
Frogs, of course, are not the only animals that need help, and we are personally involved with efforts to save other animals, particularly marine animals. But amphibians as a class of animals are threatened with extinction. That’s like saying that all mammals might soon be extinct. This is the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Frogs have survived for 360 million years (and were on Earth long before the dinosaurs) and yet one-third or more of frog species are in danger of extinction.
Frogs are bioindicators—they reflect back to us the environmental health of our planet. Their permeable skin makes them especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants, such as agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical chemicals, particularly endocrine disruptors. Frogs are manifesting reproductive deformities and hormonal disorders, possibly as a result of the stew of chemicals in the water in which they live. As endocrine distruptors are in the water we drink and are in dozens of consumer products we use everyday, we have reason to be concerned. Some scientists believe that an increase in the incidence of newborn baby boys born with genital deformities might be due to endocrine disruptors they have absorbed in utero.
Biodiversity is of critical importance to all of us—scientists still don’t fully understand how all elements interact in an ecosystem, but we do know that disasters occur when we alter even one small part of it (by introducing nonnative species etc). Frogs form an important part of ecosystems as both predator and prey.
While there is no cure yet for the chytrid fungus devastating frog populations, it should make us pause to consider that a whole class of animals could be wiped out by a worldwide fungus. Why aren’t frogs able to fight this off this infection? What are the underlying causes of the fungus? There are so many questions that need answers.
Frogs are subject to all the usual environmental woes—habitat loss, pollution, global warming, overcollection, invasive species. By helping frogs, we help other animals that might not have such a high profile (although frogs have a pretty low profile, all things considered). By focusing on the rainforest frogs, for example, we also help preserve the rainforest and its animals.
Frogs are part of our cultural heritage—our folktales, fairy tales, myths, children’s stories, and legends. In many cultures, they are a symbol of good luck, fertility, healing, prosperity, and are associated with rain and good harvests. And don’t forget our friends Kermit, and Frog and Toad, and Mr. Toad.
The amphibian decline is an environmental issue that you can do something about, possibly in your own backyard or neighborhood. We recently received a comment from a man in Georgia who decided not to fill in a pond on his property because he noticed that several frog species live in the pond. Another commenter from Pennsylvania has asked how he can create a frog pond in his backyard. You can lend your voice to land conservation efforts that protect vernal pools, for example.
Rachel Carson warned in her 1961 book Silent Spring about a world without birds. Can you imagine a world without frogs? Frogs, after all, are the Earth’s most ancient singers. We want to continue to hear their choruses for a long, long time.
So as you enjoy Save the Frogs day, listen to some frog songs. And please join us in helping to save frogs. We’d love to hear from you.