In the Wild

The Threats and Challenges

Habitat loss and degradation are well recognized as the largest threat to amphibian populations around the world. Our limited understanding of species ecology, biology and taxonomy is further limiting our ability to define what constitutes a critical habitat for amphibians that may need protection. This often leads to amphibian data and habitat needs not being incorporated into both local and national conservation policies. Further complicating matters are local communities that often do not fully understand the important roles amphibians play within the ecosystem or the importance of protecting their habitats.

The threats that amphibians could face from climate change are not very well understood, or which species for that matter are mostly likely to be affected by climate change. It’s even possible that many habitats rich with amphibians are already being impacted by climate change, which in turn could result in the potential extinction of entire species. Thus, there is an urgent need to fully understand the impacts of climate change, which may already be affecting amphibians quicker than we are able to find solutions for.

Unfortunately, many priority amphibian species or biodiverse priority regions have no conservation strategies in place for them. Even basic information on species distributions, ranges, population sizes, conservation status and threats for many species and regions is still lacking around the world. Surveys and monitoring efforts would help address the issue of these missing details, but survey efforts are not standardized which makes comparisons and achievement of conservation goals quite difficult. Traditional survey and collection approaches to monitor certain threatened, rare and/or cryptic species are often not suitable, whereas novel monitoring techniques currently being explored, such as environmental DNA and automated recording devices may be preferred. A lack of collaboration and coordination in survey and monitoring efforts, misidentifications in the field which lead to inaccurate conclusions as well as a lack of information and buy-in on survey and monitoring initiatives are all impacting amphibian and habitat conservation efforts.

The Solutions

The Alliance is now prioritizing efforts on developing a transparent framework through which conservation practitioners and funders can more effectively partner to save critical sites for amphibians. This framework will be key to scaling up our impact through the Leapfrog Conservation Fund and our other strategies to help protect these vital sites for amphibians and the broader biodiversity value that they support.

We are also working with our Partners around the world to develop a better understanding of the potential impacts that climate change has on amphibians. These efforts are focused on improving our understanding of the species to be most affected by any changes in climatic conditions and how those particular species will likely be impacted. Through this process we aim to help direct the conservation prioritization and planning processes for range restricted and threatened species.

Furthermore, Alliance Partners are now identifying and working with disease experts to prioritize the development of standardized screening methods for amphibian diseases. At the same time, because of the limitations posed by traditional survey and collection approaches when monitoring threatened, rare and/ or cryptic species, we are also investigating the advantages of more novel monitoring techniques such as environmental DNA (eDNA) and automated recording devices as well as standardizing survey/monitoring techniques. Our Partners can then use these standardized protocols when harnessing the power of citizen science.

The overall effectiveness of existing conservation strategies for amphibians is also being reassessed by our Partners and the Alliance will work with Partners to develop any necessary conservation strategies.

Putting the plan into action

The Amphibian Survival Alliance is an alliance of action and turn the ACAP priorities into real action for amphibians. Here are some of our latest projects:

Current Priority Actions
  • Identify six regional focal points for Key Biodiversity Area (KBAs).
  • Collect relevant data on 15% of all KBA’s.
  • Engage with four national or local government agencies to help protect of sites that are important for amphibians.
  • Implement the protection of at least eight Key Biodiversity Areas for amphibians (KBAa’s).
  • Recruit two new partners support large habitat conservation initiatives.
  • Identify a set of characteristics which make amphibians vulnerable to climate change.
  • Identify a set of high priority species.
  • Model climate change impacts on 20% of priority species under existing scenarios and models.
  • Literature survey and consultation with experts on the use of eDNA to create a working document subject to annual revision.
  • Literature review and survey of individuals working in the field of passive acoustic monitoring to create one working document subject to continual revision.
  • Matching six experts with students or others interested in PAM.
  • Develop guidelines for choosing state variables in monitoring programs and surveys (e.g., should we measure species richness, occupancy, abundance, occurrence of reproduction (tadpoles), life history traits, etc.).
  • Develop guidelines for ancillary data (predators, competitors, pathogens, environmental features, possible contaminants, etc.) to be collected in surveys.
  • Develop a simplified protocol for adoption and application by citizen science.
  • Identify and contact three citizen sciences initiatives that would be interested in partnering for amphibian surveys and monitoring.
  • Survey six museums and researchers to determine their field collections guidelines and integrate into best-practice document.
  • Develop a better understanding of which GIS data are available and relevant for amphibians (depends on spatial scale), inclusive of literature review and experimentation with GIS (more experimental use of GIS, e.g., making and testing predictions, revising when they prove inaccurate, repeat).
  • Develop guidelines for how to analyze and interpret spatial data collected in surveys.
  • Recruit six volunteers to collate existing keys by regions; develop lists of keys for taxa/areas to identify existing resources; reach out to six taxonomic experts to assess quality and usefulness of keys.
  • Knowledge gaps on the impact and significance of amphibians in community and ecosystem dynamics – review of relevant literature for amphibians in terrestrial and aquatic systems.
  • Recruit volunteers to review existing literature on amphibians and ecosystem services.
  • Support the integration of Bd/Bsal and ranavirus surveys into all biodiversity survey work.
  • Collaborate with disease experts to incorporate disease and pathogen detection into monitoring programs.
  • Develop resources (funds, citizen science initiatives) that would allow for ground truthing and border expansion of presently understood species ranges. This can be prioritized by the conservation status of species, e.g., Least Concern species are low priority unless they are disease carriers.
  • Act as a clearinghouse where students looking for graduate projects at universities are matched to priority actions.
  • Develop clear documentation to help explain the need for surveys and monitoring.
  • Recruit amphibian educators and communicators to develop outreach materials in several languages and make them widely available.
  • Develop novel tools for the assessment of individuals and populations.
  • Develop a network of six amphibian long term ecological monitoring sites worldwide.
  • Use existing information sources to identify priority species that need a species conservation strategy.
  • Develop and apply prioritization criteria based on more than just level of species endangerment.
  • Build up a collection of all existing amphibian species conservation strategies.
  • Develop a questionnaire designed to assess the successes and failures of Action Plan implementation.
  • Accumulate six case studies and ensure lessons as models are proactively disseminated to other potential amphibian conservation parties.
  • Ensure climate change is included in conservation planning and that its impact on defining conservation sites is well-recognised and heeded in all planning.
  • Provide technical knowledge and assistance to any party keen to help with amphibian conservation planning.
  • Develop and provide a model species conservation planning process.
  • Encourage uptake of amphibian planning opportunities by diverse parties.
  • Promote participatory approaches in the development of species and site action plans, to elicit buy-in from local stakeholders from the start.
  • Build capacity of six local conservationists to conduct simple ‘stakeholder mapping’ to understand their perspectives, interests, potential contribution, etc., and provide guidance on outreach and conflict resolution.
  • Identify organizations and individuals to develop species strategies based on priority species.
    Establish a network with representatives from the different disciplines.
  • Raise awareness of available resources and support networks through quarterly articles in FrogLog and on the website.
  • Develop user-friendly guidelines on how to develop an amphibian species action plan.
  • Demonstrate through model projects that effective amphibian conservation can be done at low-cost.
  • Collate and provide a checklist of funding sources for amphibian conservation.
  • Undertake at least five amphibian planning exercises annually from 2015.
Key Biodiversity Areas are sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. They are identified using globally standardized criteria and thresholds, and have delineated boundaries. They may or may not receive formal protection, but should ideally be managed in ways that ensure the persistence of the biodiversity for which they are important. ASA is one of eleven founding members of the ground-breaking Key Biodiversity Areas Partnership, which aims to identify, map and document thousands of Key Biodiversity Areas worldwide and to promote their conservation.

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There are many physiological, behavioural, and ecological traits that make amphibians vulnerable to climate change. Primarily, amphibians are poikilothermic ectotherms, which means that their body temperature varies because heat is sourced from the external environment. All aspects of their behavioural and physiological activities (e.g. feeding, digestion, growth rates, etc.) are therefore dependent on environmental temperatures. Amphibians also require moist skin, thus desiccation is a major risk as climates become warmer and drier. In addition, amphibian eggs have a jelly-like capsule and are generally fertilised externally, thus developing embryos are exposed to environmental factors such as UV-B radiation.
Although poikilothermic ectotherms generally have wide thermal tolerance ranges, as climates become increasingly warmer and drier, amphibians are being exposed to severe thermal and desiccation stresses. Habitat loss and modification also accentuates these stresses, as amphibians are unable to access suitable retreat sites that retain required microclimates for the species. Furthermore, UV-B radiation is known to cause abnormalities and high mortality in amphibian embryos, which is concerning considering embryonic development determines individual fitness and ultimately species’ survival. The frequency and severity of disease outbreaks are also correlated with increasing temperatures, particularly in humid conditions. Even the phenology (i.e. timing of seasonal activities such as breeding) of many amphibian species is changing because of major fluctuations in the climate. For most species, earlier breeding seasons are beneficial, but phylogeny changes can also be detrimental, especially when there is competition or predation amongst species that share similar niches which were originally separated temporally. What is more, environmental cues that initiate breeding may be reduced for species that breed during winter. Unfortunately, climate change impacts on amphibians are difficult to fully determine as there are complex interactions between the climate and species-specific responses in ecology and physiology.
Surveying amphibians generally involves assessments such as determining species presence, population abundance and size structure, or details about their habitat. Surveys can be as simple as recording the acoustics of a frog community in order to identify species by their unique calls, to more intensive surveys such as recording individual health (i.e., body condition, swabbing for Chytrid fungus, etc.).

Surveys are extremely useful as they provide conservationists and researchers a quick snap-shot of the status and distribution of amphibian communities, species and populations, along with the quality of their habitat and/or habitat requirements. Multiple surveys of the same areas over time (i.e. monitoring) provides additional information about potential trends or patterns observed. Given that amphibians are generally in meta-populations, the impacts of climate change and habitat loss are often difficult to discern as local population extinctions and declines can be both natural and anthropogenically-induced events. Long-term monitoring helps elucidate these impacts.

Only through surveys and monitoring can we identify the impacts certain threats have on amphibians. Without this knowledge, conservationists will be unable to respond effectively to prevent further amphibian declines.

There is no one standard method to analyse spatial data because the type of analysis depends on the question being asked. For instance, the presence/absence of species or populations is often analysed by species distribution models, but the detectability (i.e. the probability of finding something) of species or populations is generally analysed by occupancy modelling. The key thing to remember is that threat impacts, habitat associations, and population dynamics are often species-specific. Thus, the effects of certain threats on one species may not necessarily be the same for another. What is more, spatial data may change over time because of factors such as different seasons or habitat succession. Ideally, the interpretation of spatial data should address the following:

  • the ecology of all life stages in an amphibians’ life cycle, particularly for habitat requirements
  • whether or not the survey was carried out in breeding or non-breeding sites/in breeding or non-breeding seasons
  • the dispersal ability of the species
  • the detectability of the species
  • the surveyors’ effort
  • the influence of time (for data derived from monitoring)
  • possible sex effects in habitat use or distribution (i.e. do males congregate in certain areas to attract females?)
  • competition from conspecifics (i.e. individuals from the same species) and/or interspecific individuals (i.e. individuals from other species)

These are the key findings that will inform conservationists and researchers on how, when, and where to manage amphibian species.

Habitat Protection
Working Group

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Climate Change
Working Group

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Surveys & Monitoring
Working Group

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Species Conservation Strategies
Working Group

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