Year of the Frog
The Northern Leopard Frog is endangered in British Columbia. Biologists are trying to reintroduce it in its natural environment. Photo: © Doug Adama. - Click to enlarge.
February 2008 marks the start of the Year of the Frog. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums is launching this special year to draw attention to the decline in the number of frogs throughout the world. The cause for alarm is real: nearly one third (32 per cent) of the world's amphibians are threatened, compared with 23 per cent of all mammal species and 12 per cent of all bird species. Their disappearance would represent the largest mass extinction since that of the dinosaurs. In Canada, six species of frogs are at risk and are protected under the Species at Risk Act.
Frogs are very important creatures. They are indicators of the quality of our environment because they are highly sensitive to deterioration in their habitat conditions. They do us another great service by consuming thousands of biting mosquitoes. Their blood contains an antifreeze that protects their cells during winter - a phenomenon that is currently being studied for use in the preservation of donor organs and in the frozen-food industry. And let's not forget their melodic chorus that heralds the arrival of spring!
Frogs face many threats, the greatest of which is habitat loss. In certain parts of southern Canada, 90 per cent of wetlands have been destroyed. Real estate development, highway construction and clear-cut logging practices damage or destroy frog habitat. Other significant threats come from the introduction of exotic species - certain fish species and purple loosestrife, for example - and from pesticides, pollution, rising water temperatures resulting from climate change, and disease. Frogs throughout the world are also being increasingly affected by chytridiomycosis, a fatal fungal disease.
Nevertheless, all is not lost for frogs throughout. There are many teams that are working tirelessly to help these species to recover. In British Columbia, several partners, including the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and Environment Canada, have combined their efforts to rescue the Northern Leopard Frog. Although fairly common throughout Canada, the Northern Leopard Frog is endangered in British Columbia. Between 2001 and 2005, biologists raised over 80,000 young Northern Leopard Frogs in captivity for release in the areas of Creston Valley and Bummer Flats. And last year, for the first time since the mid 1970s, Northern Leopard Frogs bred in both areas, with about half the frogs involved coming from the reintroduction program. This was cause for celebration among the biologists. "We were ecstatic!" reports the team leader. But concern remains, because half the Northern Leopard Frogs examined in 2007 were affected by chytridiomycosis.
An Okanagan organic farmer volunteers to restore a frog pond. Photo: © Sara Ashpole. - Click to enlarge.
In the Okanagan-Similkameen region, a team is working on the recovery of the Great Basin Spadefoot, with support from the Habitat Stewardship Program of Environment Canada and in collaboration with Ducks Unlimited. The Great Basin Spadefoot is one of the rare species of amphibians that is capable of surviving in the desert conditions prevalent in this region. In order to escape the heat, this toad buries itself deep in the ground during the day and comes out to eat at night. The Spadefoot is threatened because more and more of the ponds it needs for breeding are disappearing. A pond restoration and construction project has been set up and several private property owners volunteer to participate. Results are encouraging, with half of these ponds now home to toads. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to breed there.
During this Year of the Frog, why not do your part to help these species? Report your observations, avoid using pesticides, protect wetlands or join a conservation group.
Happy Year of the Frog!
- Year of the Frog
- Northern Leopard Frog, Southern Mountain population
- Great Basin Spadefoot
- The "Adopt a River" program activity offered by Environment Canada's Biosphère
- The Species at Risk Act
- The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk
- Global Amphibian Assessment
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