The Amphibian Survival Alliance
Our vision: The world’s amphibians safe in nature
The Amphibian Survival Alliance1 (ASA), launched in June 2011, is a global partnership for amphibian conservation. The ASA is a motivated and effective network of organisations working together to stem the rapid losses of amphibian populations and species worldwide by implement the global Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP). The Alliance is the major force for the conservation of all amphibians and brings focus, coordination, and leadership to address the world’s most serious extinction crisis. Its goal is the restoration of all threatened native amphibian species to their natural roles and population levels in ecosystems worldwide.
The planet is currently in a mass extinction episode, the sixth on record. This mass extinction is most apparent in the amphibians — small vertebrate animals with an intimate association with water, such as frogs, toads, newts and salamanders, of which nearly 7,000 have been described. Their moist skin cannot control water loss and consequently they are dependent on clean fresh water and damp habitats – which makes them extremely vulnerable to changes in water or soil quality and to climate change. Because of their sensitivity they are often regarded as indicators of the health of the environment. The latest figures from IUCN´s Red List of Threatened Species™2 show that there are nearly as many species of amphibians categorised as threatened as those of threatened birds and mammals put together3, and that the proportion of threatened species is higher for amphibians (30.2%) than for birds (12.5%) or mammals (20.6%). In addition, a relatively large proportion of amphibian species are so poorly known that it is impossible to assess their conservation status4.
Despite the dramatic number of amphibian species under threat, it is the rate at which these species are disappearing that is even more alarming – the number of critically endangered amphibians doubled from 1980 to 2011. The findings of the Red List indicate that the current extinction rate of amphibians is nearly 1000 times higher than at any other time in their 360-million-year history. Amphibians have significant ecological, cultural, economic, scientific, medical, and educational importance—as well as being indicators of many aspects of environmental quality. The rapid population declines and extinctions that started late in the 20th century within this class of vertebrates is the one of the greatest conservation challenges of the century, and the greatest extinction episode in the history of amphibians, with alarming implications for the health of ecosystems globally.
The Proposed Response
An Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP) was the primary outcome of the 2005 Amphibian Conservation Summit to address the substantial losses of amphibian populations and species documented by the Red List of Threatened Species. This multidisciplinary plan provided a framework to address the causes of drastic amphibian population declines, and to halt the rapid extinctions of amphibian species. The implementation of the ACAP has been slow and uneven. This is due primarily to a lack of coordination and funding. The Amphibian Survival Alliance was formed to address these problems and fully implement the ACAP.
Even though there has been an increase in the attention amphibians have received since the production of the ACAP, this is still insufficient. Prime factors implicated in immediate extinctions have already been identified, such as the chytridiomycosis – a fungal disease – for which researchers are now exploring approaches to provide disease resistance to susceptible species, and there is a great need to explore ways in which the disease can be managed. Another major threatening factor that affects nearly 2/3 of amphibian species is habitat destruction and degradation; this is being addressed through protection of key habitat areas. Recent efforts have included the prevention of 55 amphibian extinctions in the wild through site-based conservation of more than 22,000 hectares throughout the world.
For cases where protection of high risk species in the wild is impossible, the Amphibian Ark initiative provides survival security with captive populations. There are now 100 prioritized species in this program. The ASA is the unifying name and face of global amphibian conservation of all kinds, and the Amphibian Ark continues its work as the ex situ component within this structure.
While these efforts are significant, progress across all the sections identified in the ACAP has not been of a scale sufficient to address and halt the crisis at the extent needed. As a direct result, species continue to go extinct. The chytrid epidemic is still far from controlled, habitat protection is needed for thousands of species, and several hundred species require captive breeding assistance. Key stakeholders at a meeting convened in London in 2009 agreed to form an Alliance to unify dispersed efforts on amphibian conservation under a single overarching umbrella, providing a coordination point for planning and implementing conservation actions.
An Executive Director (Dr. Jaime García Moreno) and a Chief Scientist (Dr. Phil Bishop) are taking responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the Alliance, and work together with the ASA Board of Directors. The Amphibian Ark initiative functions as the ex situ programme of the Alliance. The Amphibian Specialist Groups (ASG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, a network of more than 600 of the world’s leading amphibian biologists, provides additional scientific advice to the ASA and facilitates the assessment of the conservation status of amphibian species for the IUCN Red List; the ASG also assists in the development of national and regional amphibian conservation action plans to support and guide the ASA’s work. In addition, a Scientific Advisory Committee, comprising people from different disciplines provides the ASA with strategic direction.
Today we urge you to join the efforts of the Amphibian Survival Alliance by becoming a registered partner. As an ASA partner you will not only demonstrate your dedication to stopping this mass extinction crisis but also provide the much needed support to drive this initiative forward and on to success. Your support will demonstrate that inaction and indifference to this crisis are unacceptable and that we must work together to restore all threatened native amphibian species throughout the globe.
1 – Mendelson et al. 2006. Confronting amphibian declines and extinctions. Science 313:48.
3 – According to IUCN´s Red List of Threatened Species (v. 2011.2) of 6338 assessed amphibian species, 1917 amphibian species are categorised as threatened. For birds, there are 1253 threatened species out of 10052 assessed; and for mammals there are 1138 threatened species out of 5499 assessed ones.
4 – According to IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species (V. 2011.2), there are 1615 amphibian species classified as Data Deficient (25%); 62 bird species (0.6%) and 834 mammals (15%) are also classified as Data Deficient.