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Study confirms amphibians' ability to predict changes in biodiversity
Date:10/28/2008

Biologists have long suspected that amphibians, whose moist permeable skins make them susceptible to slight changes in the environment, might be good bellwethers for impending alterations in biodiversity during rapid climate change.

Now two University of California biologists have verified the predictive power of this sensitive group of animals in a global study of species turnover among amphibians and birds. The study appears this week in the advance online version of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our study supports the role of amphibians as 'canaries in the coal mine'," said Lauren Buckley, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the first author of the study. "Amphibians are likely to be the first to respond to environmental changes and their responses can forecast how other species will respond."

"Amphibians are much more tuned in to the changes in their specific environments," said Walter Jetz, an associate professor of biology at UC San Diego and the other author of the study. "They are much more sensitive to differences in environmental conditions as you move geographically from one location to another."

The two scientists used maps of the environment and amphibian and bird distributions to answer the question of how the environmentas well as the distribution of birds and amphibianschanges as one moves from one place to another around the globe.

The researchers found that if the environment changes rapidly as one travels from one location to another, the amphibian and bird communities also change rapidly. However, the species of amphibians would change more quickly than species of birds. This confirms that amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, the researchers conclude, and that this sensitivity is particularly acute given their narrow distributions.

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Contact: Kim McDonald
kimmcdonald@ucsd.edu
858-534-7572
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert  

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