Amphibians are world’s most vulnerable animals

2023 10 04 SCIENCE AMPHIBIANS scaled
FILE PHOTO: An endangered poison frog (Oophaga histrionica) is seen at the Santa Fe Zoo in Medellin, January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Albeiro Lopera/File Photo

Amphibians around the world are facing a significant crisis. According to a recent global assessment, 41% of amphibian species that have been studied by scientists are now at risk of extinction, falling into the categories of vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. This marks an increase from the 39% reported in the last assessment conducted in 2004.

The study shows that amphibians are currently the most endangered group of animals worldwide due to their unique biology and permeable skin, making them highly susceptible to environmental changes.

The research, published in the journal Nature, revealed that the primary threat to amphibians globally is the loss of their natural habitat due to the expansion of agriculture and ranching. However, an increasing number of amphibian species are also being pushed to the brink of extinction due to emerging diseases and the effects of climate change.

Amphibians are particularly vulnerable creatures because of their distinct life stages, which often require different types of habitats. This means they can be severely impacted by changes in either aquatic or terrestrial environments. Their fragile skin is another reason for their vulnerability. Most amphibians rely on their skin to absorb oxygen for respiration, lacking the protective scales, feathers, or fur found in other animals. As a result, they are highly susceptible to chemical pollution, bacterial and fungal infections, as well as rapid shifts in temperature and humidity due to climate change.

For instance, frogs, which are typically nocturnal, may avoid coming out even during the night when it’s too hot because they would lose excessive moisture through their skin. This, in turn, limits their ability to feed and reproduce.

Recent climatic conditions have exacerbated the situation, with the Northern Hemisphere experiencing its hottest summer on record, and 2023 is on track to be the second hottest year globally, following 2016. The study identified regions with the highest concentrations of threatened amphibian species, including the Caribbean islands, the tropical Andes, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka. Other areas with significant numbers of endangered amphibians include Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, southern China, and the southeastern United States.

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