Andrew Blaustein on Earth’s disappearing amphibians

“We are undergoing an unprecedented extinction event right now where many populations of amphibians throughout the world are disappearing,” said Blaustein.

Andrew Blaustein: We are undergoing an unprecedented extinction event in our time right now where amphibians, many populations throughout the world, are disappearing.

Ecologist Andrew Blaustein told us that scientists have recently learned more about diseases that may be killing millions of frogs and other amphibians.

Andrew Blaustein: One of them is this thing called the chytrid fungus, which is a fungus that really wasn’t well known until about 10 years ago and it seems to be correlated with many of the amphibian declines especially in the tropics.

Although the chytrid fungus and other diseases can spread naturally among frogs, Blaustein noted that human destruction of their habitat is also to blame.

Andrew Blaustein: It could trigger a stress response, and then just like people, frogs can get diseases when they’re stressed.

Frogs eat lots of mosquitoes and flies. So if frogs were to disappear entirely, Blaustein said, we humans would feel the consequences.

Andrew Blaustein: We would have a heck of lot more insect pests around.

And, Blaustein noted, frogs are also important sources of new medicines.

Andrew Blaustein: Frogs are often hopping pharmaceutical systems. They have so many anti-bacterial and anti-viral and anti-fungal compounds on their backs. They’ve even isolated certain kinds of medicine that can slow down the HIV virus.

Blaustein said that if amphibians go extinct it indicates that something’s wrong with the environment.

Andrew Blaustein: If amphibians are affected now, other types of animals can be affected, such as mammals and birds, maybe people.

Blaustein talked about amphibian death as being an indicator of a larger natural phenomenon.

Andrew Blaustein: I think we should be aware that we’re in a major extinction event. It’s called the 6th extinction event right now. We should do everything we can to tell people what’s going on so that if there are human causes for some of these extinction events we can lessen those. It’s really important for a lot of reasons that we preserve our biodiversity

Our thanks to Andrew Blaustein
Andrew Blaustein is a professor in the Department of Zoology and director of the Environmental Sciences graduate program at Oregon State University. Blaustein’s research has focused on amphibians, in particular: the effects of introduced exotic species, the role of environmental contamination and disease, and the impact of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Blaustein serves on the Board of Directors for the Amphibian Conservation Alliance, based in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Clearly Ambiguous