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Amphibians in losing race with environmental change

Even though they had the ability to evolve and survive for hundreds of millions of years - since before the time of the dinosaurs and through many climatic regimes - the massive, worldwide decline of amphibians can best be understood by their inability to keep pace with the current rate of global change, a new study suggests.

The basic constraints of evolution and the inability of species to adapt quickly enough can explain most of the causes that are leading one species after another of amphibians into decline or outright extinction, say researchers from Oregon State University, in a study published today in the journal BioScience.

"We know that there are various causes for amphibian population declines, including UV-B light exposure, habitat loss, pesticide pollution, infections and other issues," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at OSU and one of the world's leading experts on amphibian decline.

"But looked at in a different way, it's not just that there are threats and pressures amphibians have to deal with," Blaustein said. "There have always been threats, and these have been some of the most adaptive and successful vertebrate animals on Earth. They were around before the dinosaurs, have lived in periods with very different climates, and continued to thrive while many other species went extinct. But right now, they just can't keep up."

It has been estimated that the rate of plant and animal extinction is greater now than any known in the last 100,000 years, the researchers note in their report. Amphibians are of particular interest because their physiology and complex life cycle often exposes them to a wider range of environmental changes than other species must face ?they have permeable skin, live on both land and water, their eggs have no shells.

In the face of these challenges, amphibians appear to be losing the battle ?of 5,743 known species of amphibians on Earth, 43 percent are in decline, 32 pe
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Source:Oregon State University


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