2008: Year of the Frog!?!

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2008: Year of the Frog!?!

Tuesday, 04 March 2008

One half to one third of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction

One half to one third of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, pollution and pesticides, introduced species, over-collection and, most urgently, a parasitic fungus called amphibian chytrid, a deadly disease that is rapidly eradicating amphibian species throughout the planet. This represents the greatest species conservation challenge in our history.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Global Amphibian Assessment indicates that hundreds of species face threats that cannot be mitigated in the wild and, therefore, require zoos and other institutions to save them in the short term until adequate conservation measures to secure wild populations can be developed. In response to this crisis, Amphibian Ark (AArk) was formed by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and two branches of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) and the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG).

Amphibian Ark will help zoos, aquariums, and other participating institutions to save as many amphibian species as possible by bringing into those institutions species for captive breeding that cannot be safeguarded in nature. Amphibian Ark will provide global coordination, technical guidance, training, necessary linkages to other IUCN groups, communications, and guidance on publicity and capital campaigns. The global conservation community has named 2008 The Year of the Frog as a means of building public awareness of the amphibian crisis.
(Amphibian Ark, 2007)

While this may be the year of the rat in the Chinese calendar, zoos from around the world shall be highlighting the Year of the Frog as part of the global campaign to save amphibians from extinction. The fact that a whole group of animals such as amphibians may go extinct may seem extremists but unfortunately it is a possibility. In recent years we have already lost over 120 species of amphibians. The quote from the Amphibian Ark in the box highlights how important this campaign is for the survival of many of the worlds frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilian (legless amphibians that resemble worms).

The Year of the Frog Campaign shall be launched in Dublin Zoo during the Native Species Weekend on the 19th 20th April. Dublin Zoo has pledged to donate €10,000 to the campaign and we also plan to raise additional money. EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) shall be coordinating activities for European zoos. Together European zoos hope to raise over €750,000 to create an Endowment Fund, which would provide a financial long-term guarantee for amphibian conservation activities.

It is important that the campaign also raises awareness about this crisis. From April 19-20th onwards, we shall have an Amphibian Campaign Headquarters in our Learning and Discovery Centre where you can visit the red-bellied toads and learn more about amphibians and the challenges they face.

If you want to help Dublin Zoo in the EAZA Year of the Frog Campaign, then please visit our Amphibian Campaign Headquarters or log onto www.dublinzoo.ie for more information.

Amphibians in Ireland

What are amphibians?

The name Amphibian means double life and this refers to their life as larvae (youngsters) in the water and life as adults on land. Generally they have moist skin without hair, scales of feathers and many amphibians can breathe air through their skin! Others may breathe using gills and/or lungs. They can be found all over the world from the tropical rainforests to temperate parts of the world and even in deserts! The are only absent from the oceans and frozen polar regions.

Three species of amphibians can be found in Ireland; the common frog, natterjack toad and the smooth newt. These species are protected under Irish law and cannot be removed from the wild or have their habitat disturbed without a licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Thankfully, none of these species are threatened with extinction.

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

The common frog is widespread across much of Europe and can be found as far east as Kazakhstan. Ireland is at the edge of its western distribution. In Ireland it can be found in many habitats from farmland to bogs to woodlands and even suburban gardens. Their diet consists of insects, slugs, snails and caterpillars. In winter they find frost-free places and go into torpor until spring.

Adult frogs are terrestrial and return to water to breed around February. Frogs eggs are laid in clumps known as frog spawn and a female can lay up to 4,000 eggs in a season. Tadpoles hatch from the eggs around April and these metamorphose into frogs after a few months.

Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

The Natterjack toad distribution ranges across much of Europe. However it can only be found in areas of Kerry and Wexford in Ireland. This species burrows in light sandy soil by day and are active at night. They eat slugs, snails, woodlice and ants and like frogs go into torpor over winter.

Natterjacks toads emerge from torpor around April and gather at breeding ponds. They can spawn up to 3,000 eggs and these are laid in a long string at least 1.5m long. Natterjacks toad development is very fast with the tadpoles hatching within a week and the tadpoles metamorphosing into toads within two months.

Smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris)

The smooth newt has a wide distribution across much of Europe and extends as far east as central Russia. In Ireland the smooth newt also has widespread distribution and can be found in many habitat types. The adults are terrestrial but do need freshwater ponds for breeding. They are predators of a wide range of invertebrates such as worms, slugs and insects.

Around February smooth newts emerge from torpor and head to ponds for breeding. The breeding season may last several months and the male performs elaborate underwater courtship displays for the female. The female can lay up to 200-300 eggs and each one is individually wrapped in water plant leaves. Tadpoles hatch from these eggs and metamorphose into adults around August.

How you can help?

Amphibians play an important role in the food-web. They are food for many other animals e.g. herons, otters, foxes and many species of fish. And, they consume a wide range of invertebrates, many of which are pests for people e.g. slugs and midges. Although amphibians in Ireland are not threatened with extinctions, local populations here are still faced with threats to their survival. Drainage of wetland areas and pollution are among the main reasons why over half of habitats for amphibians have been lost in Ireland. Below are a few ideas of how you can help amphibians in your local area:

  • Build a garden pond for amphibians to breed in. Ideally the pond should have long vegetation around it for the adults to forage in and avoid adding fish into the pond as they will feed on the developing tadpoles. It is also important to provide hibernating sites for frogs in your garden. A log pile, a pile of stones or compost heap can provide the right shelter for frogs during the cold winter. Dont move frogs or frog spawn from one pond to another as this can transfer disease. For more information on providing ponds for amphibians, check out the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council website at www.ipcc.ie
  • Part-take in the annual Hop to it Irish Frog Survey organised by the IPCC. By mapping the annual distribution of the common frog we can understand the needs of the species and thus better able to protect our frogs. Log onto www.ipcc.ie for more details.
  • Never ever litter! Litter (which includes chewing gum and cigarette butts!) causes so much damage to our environment and can end up anywhere including important habitats for amphibians such as their breeding ponds. Run-off from illegally dumped rubbish can pollute waterways and amphibian breeding ponds. By not littering we all can play a role in protecting not only our amphibians but all of our wildlife!

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