Hope for conservation as number of amphibian species hits 7,000
At a time when alarm bells are ringing about the global decline of amphibians, scientists have some good news. This week, the number of known amphibian species reached 7,000, according to AmphibiaWeb.org, an online database of amphibian information co-founded by Assistant Professor of Biology Vance Vredenburg.
A tiny "glass frog" with translucent skin is the 7,000th species added to AmphibaWeb. These inch-long frogs live in the trees of Peru's humid mountain forests. The new species, Centrolene sabini, was discovered and described by a team led by Alessandro Catenazzi, a former University of California, Berkeley researcher who is now a postdoctoral researcher in Vredenburg's lab at SF State.
Approximately 40 percent of amphibian species are at risk of extinction, facing threats from climate change, habitat loss and emerging diseases. Vredenburg says the growth in knowledge about amphibian populations is vitally important for conservation efforts.
"If you don't know what species exist, you won't know what you have lost or how to save them," Vredenburg said. "People are realizing how endangered amphibians are. Scientists are using new tools and going to places that have never been explored before and they're finding new amphibian species at a rate of about two per week," Vredenburg said.
Every time a new species is formally named, it is posted to AmphibiaWeb. Vredenburg and a team from UC Berkeley, began the site in 2000 to provide scientists, policymakers, conservationists and members of the public with up to date information on the world's amphibian population.
The 7,000 amphibian species now identified mark a 75 percent increase since 1985, when scientists were only aware of about 4,000 species. Many of the newly discovered species have been described from a single population and live in areas where their habitat is threatened.
With amphibian species constantly being discovered and populations changing due to threats, it takes a large team of experts and volunteers to keep AmphibiaWeb up to date. Students in Vredenburg's classes have authored species accounts for the website and contributed photographs from fieldtrips.
"There's encyclopedic knowledge of the world's amphibians on the website," Vredenburg said. "It's used by scientists and conservation planners, but the public can also visit the site to view thousands of photos of amphibians or to find fun facts about the biggest frog in the world or the frog that jumps the farthest."