Coast KZN

10 Oct 2023

Climate change identified as major driver behind global amphibian decline

Dominic Naidoo (IOL) Picture: Submitted. Stellenbosch University. Around 40 percent of amphibian species face extinction with climate change emerging as a leading culprit.

This was discovered in a groundbreaking study published in the prestigious journal, Nature. Over 100 international experts, including Professor John Measey from Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Invasion Biology, unveiled the grim reality. Measey is responsible for the Southern African segment of the study and he emphasised the significance of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessments. “This assessment demonstrates their ongoing decline,” Measey said.

The study, titled “Ongoing declines for the world’s amphibians in the face of emerging threats” was conducted by the Amphibian Red List Authority. It indicated that climate change has become a primary threat for 39 percent of amphibian species, exacerbating issues like habitat destruction and disease. Jennifer Luedtke Swandby, Red List Authority coordinator, highlighted the perilous situation. “Amphibians are becoming climate captives, unable to move very far to escape the climate change-induced increase in frequency and intensity of extreme heat, wildfires, drought, and hurricanes,” Swandby said.

The research found that salamanders, particularly in North America, are the most threatened group, with three out of every five species facing extinction. A looming concern is the potential introduction of the deadly salamander fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), into the Americas. Dede Olson, a research ecologist, warned, “It is critical that we continue to implement proactive conservation actions to prevent the spread of Bsal into the United States.” The study, an update to the 2004 landmark paper, revealed that 41 percent of globally assessed amphibian species are currently threatened, compared to 26.5 percent of mammals, 21.4 percent of reptiles, and 12.9 percent of birds.

Four amphibian species have gone extinct since 2004, with an additional 27 critically endangered species possibly extinct. Conservationists stress the urgency of global action to prevent further declines. Adam Sweidan, chair and co-founder of Synchronicity Earth, said it was time to act.

“It isn’t too late — we have this wealth of information, we have the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan, but plans and information are not enough,” Sweidan said. “We need to act. We need to act fast.”