CHICAGO (May 1, 2013) Researchers at Lincoln Park Zoo and Northern Illinois University have discovered a new culprit contributing to amphibian decline and altered mammal distribution throughout the Midwest region the invasive plant European buckthorn. This non-native shrub, which has invaded two-thirds of the United States, has long been known to negatively impact plant community composition and forest structure, but these two innovative studies slated to publish in upcoming editions of the Journal of Herpetology and Natural Areas Journal demonstrate how this shrub negatively impacts native amphibians and affects habitat use by mammals including increased prevalence of coyotes and other carnivores.
Amphibians are facing an extinction crisis worldwide, with 165 species likely having gone extinct in recent years according to the Amphibian Ark, a coalition of conservationists devoted to seeking solutions to the decline. Lincoln Park Zoo Reintroduction Biologist Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Ph.D. and Northern Illinois University Professor of Biological Sciences Richard King have identified European buckthorn as a contributor to amphibian decline in the Chicagoland area. The plant releases the chemical compound emodin, which is produced in the leaves, fruit, bark and roots of the plant, into the amphibian breeding pond environment at various times of year. Sacerdote-Velat and King's research has found that emodin is toxic to amphibian embryos, disrupting their development, preventing hatching.
"Levels of emodin in the environment are greatest at leaf out, which is occurring right now in early spring. This coincides with breeding activity of several early-breeding Midwestern amphibian species including western chorus frogs and blue-spotted salamanders," explained Sacerdote-Velat. "Several amphibian species exhibit low hatching rates in sites that are heavily infested with European buckthorn."
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Lincoln Park Zoo