Frogs on Ice: A Way to Save Amphibians
Posted by Richard Conniff on July 9, 2013
For one of the most colorful animal groups on Earth, the 21st century is looking a lot like the end of the world. Scientists suspect that 165 amphibian species—frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians—have gone extinct over the past few decades. Another 2,000 species—roughly a third of the 6,260 known amphibians—are either threatened or endangered. That’s not counting the 1,500 species for which scientists lack adequate data. Habitat loss is the usual culprit, together with the worldwide amphibian pandemic commonly known as chytrid fungus.
But a team of researchers from eight countries, writing in the journal Biological Conservation, now proposes a slender thread of hope in the form of “biobanking,” the preservation of genetic material for amphibian species. In the face of “what seems to be an inevitable march of destruction and loss,” the authors write, their proposal amounts to “an eleventh hour, last-ditch effort” to save what could amount to the entire taxonomic class Amphibia.
It may sound a bit like science fiction: A liquid nitrogen tank taking up half the space of a typical desk can hold sperm samples from hundreds of individuals. Some may be used next month, or ten years from now, to help save a species. Others may be stored away for 200 or 300 years, to be resurrected in some future world that, with luck, will be more hospitable than the one amphibians now face on Earth. Like candidates for flight to a distant planet, donor amphibians must have the right stuff: Lab technicians screen them to ensure that … to read the full story, click here.