Amphibians

The New Canary in the Coal Mine

I recently saw the Disney Movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” in which the animators recreated the colorful and melodious experience of the Louisiana Bayou. As suggested by the title, the frogs of the Bayou played a stellar role. As I watched the movie with my youngest, I was thinking of the vulnerabilities of these precious wetlands and growing threats to their inhabitants—the frogs.

With the ongoing debate over the health and environmental effects of climate change on animals, increasingly, frogs and their fellow amphibians are becoming the new “canaries in the coal mine.” Since amphibians’ skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature, they are considered a “sentinel” species, hence, the term of the “canary in the coal mine.”

There are over five thousand species of amphibians worldwide. Many live throughout North America. In Puerto Rico, our favorite amphibian is the coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus comes from the Greek meaning free toes. Coquí, its popular name, refers to its high decibel chirp “co-KEE.” In general, these amphibians have adapted well to urban sprawl on the Island, however, pollution is taking its toll. While over 16 species are endemic to Puerto Rico, several coquí species are currently threatened. Some species known by their popular Spanish names haven’t been heard in years. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, these small frogs have been introduced to neighboring Islands, Florida and even Hawaii where they are considered an invasive pest.

We all can do something to protect wildlife and the environment in our daily lives. How can we help protect the frogs and their fellow amphibians from environmental contaminants in our own back yard? Well, one of the first steps is to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in our lawn that are carried by runoff and end up polluting their aquatic habitats miles away. By planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees in your garden you also minimize the need for using toxic chemicals around your home. While I don’t recommend kissing a frog, please help protect it and its habitat. A healthy environment is a gift for all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Un nuevo canario en la mina de carbón

Recientemente vi la película de Disney, “La princesa y la rana” en la cual los animadores proyectaron la colorida y melodiosa experiencia de los pantanos de Luisiana. Como sugiere el título, las ranas de esa área pantanosa desempeñan un papel estelar. Mientras veía la película con mi hija menor, pensaba en la condición precaria de estos preciados humedales y las crecientes amenazas a sus habitantes, las ranas.

A medidas que transcurre el continuo debate sobre los efectos a la salud y al medio ambiente del cambio climático en animales, las ranas y sus compañeros anfibios se están convirtiendo en los “nuevos canarios en la mina de carbón”. Como la piel de los anfibios es permeable, estas creaturas son más susceptibles a los contaminantes y cambios en sus hábitats acuáticos. Por su misma naturaleza, son considerados como una especie “centinela” encargada de avisar la llegada del enemigo o condiciones peligrosas, de ahí viene el término, “canario en la mina”.

Hay más de cinco mil especies de anfibios a nivel mundial. Muchos viven en Norteamérica. En Puerto Rico, nuestro anfibio predilecto es el coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus proviene del griego y significa dedos libres. Coquí es el nombre popular y se refiere a la onomatopeya de su cantar. En general estos anfibios se han podido adaptar bien al crecimiento demográfico en la Isla, sin embargo, la contaminación está teniendo efectos adversos. Mientras más de 16 especies son endémicas a Puerto Rico, varias especies se encuentran amenazadas en la actualidad. Algunas de estas especies con nombres populares como coquí de Eneida, coquí palmeado, caqui dorado del Cayey, coquí guajón, coquí martillito y coquí caoba, no se han escuchado en años. Como he mencionado en blogs anteriores, estos pequeños anfibios han llegado a islas vecinas, Florida y hasta las islas de Hawái donde son consideradas como una especie invasora.

Todos podemos poner de nuestra parte para proteger a la vida silvestre y al medio ambiente en nuestras vidas diarias. ¿Cómo podemos proteger a las ranas y demás anfibios de los contaminantes medioambientales en nuestros propios jardines? Bueno, una de las primeras cosas que debemos hacer es reducir el uso de productos pesticidas y fertilizantes químicos en nuestro césped las escorrentías llevan y luego contaminan sus hábitats acuáticos a millas de distancia. Al sembrar hierbas, arbustos y árboles autóctonos en su jardín también puede minimizar la necesidad de usar sustancias químicas tóxicas alrededor de su hogar. Aunque no recomiendo que bese una rana, por favor, ayude a protegerlas y su medio ambiente. Un medio ambiente saludable es el mejor regalo para todos por igual.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Why are Frogs (and Other Amphibians) Declining?

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Steven Whitfield is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University in Miami. His work is funded by a Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Investigating Patterns and processes implicated in enigmatic declines of amphibians and reptiles at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Photo of man holding a brown frogHere’s a picture of me and a Mexican tree frog, (I’m the one on the left).

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with approximately one-third of their species at risk of extinction.

Rapid declines of amphibian populations, even in apparently pristine, protected reserves, have generated much alarm. The causes associated with these “enigmatic declines” are poorly understood.

Through my dissertation research—supported by a GRO Fellowship from EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research—I am investigating a variety of factors associated with population declines, including chytridiomycosis (Amphibian Chytrid Fungus), habitat modification, and climate change, in amphibians and reptiles in the lowland forests of Central America.

That’s where my work at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica comes in.

Photo of man holding a brown frogThe strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) is one of the common species at my field site that is slowly becoming less common.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with approximately one-third of their species at risk of extinction.

La Selva populations of terrestrial amphibians have declined by 75% since 1970, and similar declines have been noted in terrestrial lizards. It is currently unclear what factors have contributed to these declines, but potential stressors include fungal disease, shifting climate, pesticide drift from nearby agricultural areas, and habitat modification surrounding the La Selva Reserve.

I am using extensive field investigations and synthesis of long-term datasets collected at La Selva. I hope my research will provide important information necessary to protect biological diversity of this important group of animals.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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