The University of Newcastle, Australia

Researchers say act now on frog decline

Monday, 7 August 2017

Scientists from Australia and the United States are calling for immediate, pre-emptive action to save the world’s frog population.

Dr Simon Clulow with frog

Amphibians are under threat world-wide from a range of pressures, including disease caused by an emerging chytrid fungus. Many frog species have gone extinct, while others have undergone dramatic declines. But the scientists say a few refuges like New Guinea could save species if action is taken before the disease hits.

UON's Dr Simon Clulow joined four other global experts in a commentary published in the influential journal Science.

Dr Clulow said the scientists are now calling for rapid and concerted action to protect the remaining chytrid-free populations.

“The exciting opportunity with New Guinea is that it provides a refuge for a disproportionately high amount of the world’s frog diversity – approximately 6% of the world’s species despite being less than 1% of the world’s landmass.”

“The key is to act quickly. Protection of these last refuges will require bringing together scientists, government agencies, NGOs and landholders. This needs to be achieved before the disease arrives, which could be any day.”

Lead author, Dr Deb Bower from James Cook University said there was a unique opportunity to protect remaining wildlife refuges from chytrid fungi, by legislating to prevent importation of the disease, and developing early response plans.

"We are used to hearing horror stories about frogs going extinct, and a global fungal disease has been a major player in these declines,” she said. "But now there is an exciting window of opportunity to use our body of research to save species in places where the disease hasn’t yet reached."

Professor Karen Lips from the University of Maryland said it had taken several decades after the declines were first detected before it was realised (in 1989) that frogs were declining on a global scale.

“Partly because of a lack of information on frog populations, people at first found it hard to believe that there could be a disease causing mass, global extinctions,” she said.

Dr Bower said that proposition might be daunting, but by acting now to identify remaining frog refuges, document fauna, improve biosecurity, and plan contingency responses, both money and species could be saved long-term.

“It’s better to spend a penny now in prevention that a pound later on a cure,” she said.

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