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  How can I help amphibians?

Why is amphibian conservation important?
Amphibians play an important role in our ecosystems because they are indicator species. An indicator species is very sensitive to a certain environmental factor and can provide information about that factor. Since most amphibians live in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats at some point in their lifecycles they serve as indicators for the health of both environments. Also, they are highly sensitive to any changes in their surroundings, because of their permeable skin.

Amphibians are important in other ways as well. They are essential members of an ecosystem and its food chain. They serve as predators to (mostly) invertebrates and in turn are prey for larger organisms. The Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) for example is a key species in its ecosystem. Ellen Pehek, a senior ecologist for the Natural Resources Group of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, stated that “They eat the insects that break down the leaf litter, so salamanders are slowing that decay. There’s carbon sequestered in those leaves, so in a way you could say salamanders are slowing down global warming.”

Amphibians also make up a large portion of an ecosystem’s biomass. For example one study showed that the biomass of the Eastern Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) in a New Hampshire forest was twice as much as birds and equal to small mammals. This means that salamanders (and other amphibians) are very important to the health of forests and fulfil a vital role in the food chain. If their population declines so do populations of other species that rely on them. This could threaten the biodiversity which contributes heavily to our health and the planet’s health. When we lose biodiversity, we lose the ecosystem services that it provides to us.

Scientists have been studying amphibians for centuries now and have found some remarkable characteristics that can have a medical application. A few examples are cancer fighting proteins and tissue regeneration. A recent study from scientists at Queen’s University found proteins in the skin secretions of the Waxy Monkey Frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) and the Giant Firebellied Toad (Bombina maxima) that could be used to fight cancer in humans. A study on eye regeneration in Japanese Fire Belly Newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster) may one day aid humans with re-growing damaged tissues.

All these reasons and more are why we all need to support amphibian conservation and help prevent these amazing creatures from going extinct. And let’s not forget that every creature has an intrinsic value that we should respect. We should try to help preserve that wonderful diversity that we find in nature.

What can you do?
There are many things you can do to help ensure amphibians will survive for many more centuries. In general we can distinguish the following actions:

  • Make sure your own behaviour doesn’t negatively affect amphibians
  • Create your own amphibian habitats
  • Take care of our environment
  • Become actively involved
  • Support conservation initiatives.

Make sure your own behaviour doesn’t negatively affect amphibians
Wherever you live, encouraging responsible amphibian pet ownership and reducing the over exploitation of amphibians will assist in reducing the spread of diseases, giving the world’s amphibians a better chance of survival. It will also serve to safeguard wild amphibian populations that cannot withstand large-scale collection of individuals for this trade.

To minimize your impact, purchase only captive-bred animals from reliable and ethical sources. Look closely at the captive-bred species available instead of searching for the latest import. Where appropriate, ask for documentation for imported specimens and avoid specimens and vendors lacking such information.

Whenever you are traveling (but also in your home country), make sure you don’t contribute to the overexploitation of amphibians. In China for instance, the Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus) is considered a delicacy and therefore is illegally sold in restaurants. And in Peru and Bolivia you can buy a frog ‘juice’, made from specimens of the Lake Titicaca Frog (Telmatobius culeus), an endangered species. By being aware of these traditions and by not participating in them, we can all make a difference.

Create your own amphibian habitats
If an amphibian population is to survive, a supply of water must be readily available. Unfortunately, increasing global alteration of natural environments by humans is greatly reducing the area of land viable for amphibian inhabitancy and breeding.

As a result, if you live in an urban or suburban area, converting your garden into a microhabitat for amphibians and other wildlife could prove vital for the survival and prosperity of a local population.

Creating a pond for your local amphibians is a great starter point for encouraging amphibian life in your garden, and can be easily achieved in a few steps. Although amphibians do not always spend their whole lives in the water, ponds play a vital role in their life cycle, providing a breeding ground for many species to spawn each year. This spawn develops into fully aquatic tadpoles or larvae which undergo metamorphosis, emerging from ponds as froglets, toadlets or juvenile newts. As a result, ponds should be built with shallow, sloping edges, to allow newly metamorphosed individuals to move onto the land.

If your garden has a swimming pool, amphibians may occasionally enter thinking that it is a pond. The steep cornered sides of swimming pools make it impossible for small animals to escape, so an American company have invented a product called the “Froglog” to allow animals such as frogs and toads an exit route.

Take care of our environment
Clearly, promoting better environmental stewardship will benefit amphibians but also our own kind. Make an effort to tread more lightly on the planet by curbing your big carbon vices: big cars, hot thermostats, and hamburgers – to name just a few. Climate change has the potential to impact all of our lives and might be devastating to amphibians as well. So turn off your lights, use public transportation and try to use renewable energy as much as possible.

Since amphibians are an indicator species and are very sensitive to pollution in their environment, minimizing that pollution is a great way to help them. Always search for alternatives whenever you are thinking about using chemicals and avoid applying pesticides, fertilizers and weed killers to your garden altogether.

Here are some additional ways you can help:

  • Start composting in your backyard garden or on your balcony. It eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and it benefits your plants.
  • Try to use less water and follow the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
  • Don't use harmful chemicals in your garden or home.
  • Plant native plants in your garden which use less water and need less pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Encourage your family to take public transportation. Walk or ride bicycles rather than using the car. When you can, try to organize carpools.

Rainforests are a haven for amphibian biodiversity and our own lifestyle choices have an impact on these tropical habitats. Our own lifestyle choices have an impact on tropical habitats. We can reduce demand for unsustainable rainforest products by being careful about what we buy. You can also make donations to one of the various Wildlife Conservation groups to adopt an acre of endangered forest and help conserve amphibian populations.

Become actively involved
First, you can get involved in collaborations that promote sustainable breeding and management, like the Amphibian Steward Network set up by the Tree Walkers organization, which “harnesses the passion, skills, and resources of private amphibian enthusiasts” to promote activities leading to sustainable captive population management, reducing collecting pressure on wild populations, and supporting conservation actions in nature for the species involved.

Help raise awareness. Start a letter-writing campaign to politicians, from local to federal, to raise their awareness and ask them to encourage and finance conservation activities for amphibians. If you are a student (or you have kids in school), start a letter-writing campaign in your and other schools encouraging them to do the same. And speaking of students, go visit them and share your passion. What biology class would not welcome a visit from a herpetologist? Take the time to interact with a local class, and be sure to tell them about our amphibian-related curricular materials for school kids.

Amphibians have great public appeal! Raise money to support conservation projects where many times even a few hundred dollars can go a long way.

Support conservation initiatives
If you are interested in helping amphibians below is a list of some of the conservation organizations you should check out. You can also contact your local university to see if any graduate students are working on amphibian projects. Graduate students always need free labor.

Some amphibian conservation organizations:

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