August 9, 2010

Conservationists On The Prowl For Extinct Frogs

Conservationists are scouring the world for frog species that are thought to be extinct, but may just be hanging on.

Expeditions to search for the species known as the golden toad will start in the next two months in 14 countries.

Amphibians are the most threatened animals on the planet, with one third of species at risk of extinction.

Many have become extinct because of a fungal disease that is carried in the waters they live in.

Robin Moore, the scientist leading the project, told BBC News that he believes about 100 amphibians targeted in the survey will turn up.

"A couple of years ago when I was in Ecuador with a team of local scientists, we went in search of a species that hadn't been seen in 12 years," he said.

"We weren't very hopeful that we'd find it, but after a day of searching we uncovered a rock and found one of these little green frogs."

Moore, from Conservation International (CI), is organizing the search for the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The biggest issue for amphibians globally is loss of habitat, as forests are cleared and wetlands are drained.

However, this survey will target many species that fell ill to the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

There is currently no way of preventing infection in the wild, or of preventing it from spreading throughout the world.

The chytrid fungus wipes others away suddenly, although some species are immune.  The iconic golden toad of Costa Rica went from abundant to extinct a little over a year ago.

This golden toad has become a poster-child for the amphibian crisis, and finding some specimens alive would be a major success.

The same applies to the gastric brooding frogs of Australia, which uniquely raise their tadpoles in their stomachs.

This involves turning off production of stomach acid.  Medical researchers hope that understanding more about these frogs will lead to new treatments for stomach ulcers.

If a few of the frogs do exist, then conservation measures would be implemented in full.

"We're limited by our knowledge of many of these species and whether they even exist - if we don't know whether a species exists, we can't protect it," said Moore.

"So it really is a mission to increase our knowledge of what's out there, what's still alive, so that we can follow up and hopefully do some conservation work on species that are found."


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