Nature paper: Frog extinctions linked to global warming
Press release issued: 12 January 2006
A direct link between climate change and the extinction of dozens of frog species in the pristine habitats of tropical America is reported in Nature today [12 January, 2006].
Seventeen years ago, in the mountains of Costa Rica, the Monteverde harlequin frog vanished along with the Panamanian golden toad. An estimated 67% of the 110 or so species of Atelopus, which are endemic to the American tropics, have also met the same fate.
The study reports compelling evidence that global climate change creates favourable conditions for a pathogenic fungus in Central and South America which affects the frogs’ skin. The infection has led to widespread extinction.
Alan Pounds, the study's lead author and Resident Scientist at the Monteverde Cloud -Forest Preserve in Costa Rica and his co-authors, including Dr Pru Foster from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, have shown that the timing of the extinctions in the Atelopus correlate with observed temperature trends. An increase in temperatures drive outbreaks of the infectious disease Batrachochytrium which in turn kills the frogs.
Dr Foster said: “This is the first well documented link between global warming and a particular extinction and should generate extreme concern. Global warming is wreaking havoc on amphibians and will cause staggering losses of biodiversity if we don't do something fast.”
Analysing the timing of extinctions in relation to changes in sea surface and air temperatures, the authors conclude with ‘very high confidence’ that large-scale warming is a key factor in the disappearances.
They propose that temperatures at many highland localities are shifting towards the growth optimum of Batrachochytrium, thus encouraging outbreaks. With climate change promoting infectious disease and eroding biodiversity, the urgency of reducing greenhouse-gas concentrations is now undeniable.