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Last Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Clarion call to save amphibians
Dendrobates galactonotus (Ron D. Holt)
A third of amphibians are now judged to be at risk of extinction
Hundreds of amphibian species will become extinct unless a global action plan is put into practice very soon, conservationists warn.

Campaigners are forming an Amphibian Survival Alliance, to raise $400m and carry through a rescue strategy.

More than a third of all amphibian species are said to be in peril.

In a policy statement issued in the journal Science, researchers blame a number of factors including habitat loss, climate change and disease.

"We have a huge crisis but I'm confident we can produce some real results," said Simon Stuart, from Conservation International (CI).

"The questions is: how many species will we lose? Are we going to lose hundreds before we can stabilise the situation or are we going to lose just tens," he told the BBC News website.

"Time is absolutely crucial, and to beat time we need human recourses and expertise, and finance."

Policy pressure

Dr Stuart led the Global Amphibian Assessment which reported in 2004. It confirmed the scale of the long-suspected collapse in many populations.

There are almost 6,000 known amphibians, a category which includes frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians (legless amphibians).

WHAT ARE AMPHIBIANS?
Frog (BBC)
First true amphibians evolved about 250m years ago
Adapted to many different aquatic and terrestrial habitats
Present today on every continent except Antarctica
Undergo metamorphosis, from larvae to adults
Of these, nearly 2,000 are now judged to be at risk of extinction. Between nine and 122 species have slipped over the edge to oblivion since 1980, when the assessment said the most dramatic declines began.

The losses are caused by land-use change; commercial overexploitation; invasive species pushing out native amphibians; and a wave of disease.

The situation led to a summit last year being called in Washington DC, where a global action plan was agreed.

In this week's edition of the journal Science, leading conservationists announce the creation of an Amphibian Survival Alliance which will co-ordinate the initiative - pushing forward research, field programmes, captive breeding and making sure the "global crisis" remains at the forefront of policy-making.

Amphibian 'ark'

The biggest single threat to amphibians at the moment appears to be a fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; first identified 1998, it is firmly established in parts of the Americas, Australia and Europe.

The disease which it causes, chytridiomycosis, kills the animals by damaging their sensitive skins, blocking the passage of air and moisture.

A world of amphibians

In some instances where the spread of this disease was rampant, conservationists would have little choice but to take an "ark" approach", said Dr Stuart.

"The only option we have is to take the most vulnerable species out of the wild and put them in captive holding stations and breed them. It's being done in Panama and Colombia. Some of the rarest species are being plucked out before they go," he explained.

The new alliance will be led by an international secretariat of the Amphibian Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union, also known as the IUCN.

An initial five-year budget of $400m (220m) is needed. Longer term, much more will be required.

"It is achievable; it can be done," said Dr Stuart, the senior director of CI's biodiversity assessment unit.

"Some of the money, of course, overlaps with action that needs to take place anyway for biodiversity more broadly, with the focus on conserving key habitats in the wild. Not all of the funds have to be raised under the amphibian name."


SEE ALSO
Bullfrog linked to fungus spread
24 May 06 |  Science/Nature
'Extinct' frog comes back to life
19 May 06 |  Science/Nature
Climate culprit for frog deaths
11 Jan 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Global plan to rescue amphibians
19 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Lethal amphibian fungus 'in UK'
15 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Frog action plan to cost millions
14 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Pregnancy test link to frog fall
18 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Global amphibians in deep trouble
14 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature

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