t are in decline, 32 percent are threatened and 168 species are believed extinct. The impacts of changes are far more pervasive on amphibians than many other vertebrates, such as birds or mammals.
"Historically, amphibians were adept at evolving to deal with new conditions," Blaustein said. "What they are doing is showing us just how rapid and unprecedented are the environmental changes under way. Many other species will also be unable to evolve fast enough to deal with these changes. Because of their unique characteristics, the amphibians are just the first to go."
In their analysis, the OSU scientists point out that evolution is not a precise or perfect process - it takes time, is constrained by historic changes and compromises, and does not always allow a species to adapt in a way that meets rapidly changing conditions. Through genetic variation and natural selection pressures, some species or populations will be able to adapt while others fail and go extinct.
The systems developed over millions of years to give amphibians survival advantages have now turned against them, scientists say. Examples include:
- Many amphibians lay their eggs in shallow, open water in direct sunlight to provide a more oxygenated environment, increase growth rate of larvae and reduce predation. But the increased levels of UV-B radiation in today's sunlight, due to erosion of the Earth's ozone layer, is causing mutations, impaired immune systems and slower growth rates. Through evolution, amphibians were able to adapt to changing UV-B levels in the past, but the current change has occurred too rapidly.
- In the past, water was reasonably pure and clean. But increased "eutrophication" of freshwater ponds due to use of modern fertilizers and waste from grazing animals has led to higher rates of parasite infections, and chemical contamination of aquatic systems is also more common.
Contact: Andrew Blaustein
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