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Sunbathing tree frogs' future under a cloud

Animal conservationists in Manchester are turning to physics to investigate whether global warming is responsible for killing sun-loving South American tree frogs.

In a unique collaborative project, researchers in The Photon Science Institute (PSI) at The University of Manchester have joined forces with The Manchester Museum, which boasts an amazing collection of colourful tree frogs.

Physicist Dr Mark Dickinson, working with Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at the museum, and Dr Richard Preziosi from The Faculty of Life Sciences, has started using a technique called Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to investigate the properties of the tree frogs skin.

This non-invasive technique, which does not cause harm or distress to the frogs, allows images to be obtained from within tissue and the Manchester team believe this innovative application of OCT could hold the key to understanding the alarming global decline in amphibians.

When in their natural habitat, the Costa Rican tree frogs being studied in Manchester prefer to live on leaves and branches high above the ground.

They enjoy basking in the hot sun which is unusual because frogs normally avoid prolonged exposure to high levels of light due to the risk of overheating and dehydration.

The Manchester teams hypothesis is that global warming is leading to more cloud cover in the frogs natural habitat.

They believe this is denying them the opportunity to 'sunbathe' and kill off fatal Chytrid fungal infections, leading to many species dying out.

In their work so far, the team have observed that the skin of basking tree frogs sometimes undergoes a visible change and becomes almost metallic in texture. They think that when this happens, the level of absorption and reflection and the skin temperature also changes.

The Manchester team believe tree frogs are able to bask happily under a fierce sun because they have the ability to regu

Contact: Alex Waddington
University of Manchester

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