Magazine article World Watch

Life Is Cheap

Magazine article World Watch

Life Is Cheap

Article excerpt

At least 14 species of Australian rainforest frogs have died out or dwindled to near extinction over the past 15 years. The largest known breeding population of a salamander native to the US Southeast has virtually disappeared. And in a remote, mountainous tract of southern California, at least five of the seven native frogs and toads arc gone or in serious trouble.

These findings, from a recent issue of Conservation Biology, are just the latest broken strands in what is rapidly becoming a very frayed cord. Amphibia, the world's oldest terrestrial vertebrate class, is in trouble, for reasons that are unclear but probably numerous. Probable causes include higher UV radiation because of the weakened ozone layer, habitat loss, invasions of nonnative "exotic" organisms, diseases, climate change, and collection for food. Because the problem is global, understanding it must also be a global enterprise. That's the mission of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force, which was set up by the World Conservation Union in 1991. The DAPTF is staffed by professional biologists, working all over the world on an unpaid, volunteer basis.

But the DAPTF is itself in trouble. Ronald Heyer, a biologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and chairman of the task force, says the organization has enough funding to see it through to the end of the year. After that, the picture is murky. Heyer hasn't been able to secure a grant that would allow the group to run its small office, pay one staff person, and continue publishing Froglog, its newsletter. He needs $40,000 a year. …

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