Thursday, May 1, 2008

FrogWatch USA Digest:

May 1st, 2008 Happy May FrogWatchers! Here is your frog and toad news as well as a Record the Ribbit reminder. This is the last reminder before May 3rd so remember to get outside this Saturday! Jessica Jones FrogWatch USA Coordinator National Wildlife Federation Frogs and Toads in the News. 1. Record the Ribbit 2. Answers to Amphibian Mystery May Slither Around Georgia 3. Threatened Frog Gets Help from Federal Biologists ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. Record the Ribbit is this Saturday, May 3rd. Listen to the sounds of frogs and toads online by visiting the Record the Ribbit website, On Saturday, May 3rd, go out into your community to listen for those species and then report the data back on the website. Anyone can do it! Be a part of the nationwide effort to save our endangered frogs and toads during the 2008 Year of the Frog by Recording the Ribbit. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2. Answers to Amphibian Mystery May Slither Around Georgia by Mark Davis of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Published on April 26, 2008 The green folds of Georgia's mountains may hold a secret that scientists around the world want to know: Why do salamanders in its creeks and bogs appear impervious to a fungus that is killing amphibians all over the world? The Atlanta Botanical Garden's Robert Hill is trying to find out the only way he knows - on his knees, in the muck and goo. He catches salamanders. "Oh, here's one!" Hill squatted inches above a nameless creek Wednesday on a Rabun County ridge in the northeastern corner of the state. He slid his hand into the swirling murk and pulled out a little brown something. It was mostly tail and all thrash, 4 inches of frantic life. Hill slid it into a plastic baggie sloshing with water and stared for a moment at the creature. The salamander stared back, pressing bulbous eyes against the plastic like a kid eyeballing candy in a jar. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure what it is," said Hill, who planned to take a sample of the slime on its skin for scientific analysis before releasing the salamander. "It's kind of cool, though." Hill returned to the hunt, his thick-rubber boots sliding on rounded rocks. He paused over a stone the size of a casserole dish. Hill reached into a pile of wet leaves under it and pulled out a 2-inch wiggler the color of coffee. "Ocoee salamander," he said. "They're everywhere." Hill, 28, knows. He's been prowling the waterways of North Georgia for the botanical garden since last year, grabbing slippery slitherers in the name of science. The region's hills and ridges contain more than 30 species - more salamanders than just about anywhere. The mountains, he said, are "an adaptive radiation point," which is a scientist's way of saying the varying species practically originated here and spread outward. When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, said Hill, salamanders crouched under rocks and watched them pass. "Here," said Hill. He held a third salamander, another Ocoee. It was a study in contrasts - chestnut brown, with dark-gold spots. "Really pretty," Hill murmured. What is happening elsewhere to the world's amphibians is anything but pretty. The plight facing frogs and other amphibians is so dire that an international consortium last year declared 2008 the Year of the Frog. The chytrid fungus, identified about 70 years ago in Africa, has swept through some amphibian species in Central and South America like a fire through straw. The fungus impedes the ability of amphibians' skin to absorb water and oxygen. It has left some species' hold on life so tenuous that the botanical garden sends scientists overseas to retrieve specimens before they become extinct in the wild. Amphibian ARK, composed of scientists from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and members of the World Conservation Union, is supporting chytrid research. If no one does, said its director, frogs may fall silent in parts of the world. "If we can figure out why the species that aren't dying are surviving, maybe we can apply that knowledge to the species that are dying out," said biologist Kevin Zippel, who heads the nonprofit association. What Hill is doing in North Georgia, he said, "is among the most important research going on right now." The task is simple: collect salamanders, run a Q-Tip over each, getting a swab of slime. Note the time and location of each sample. The botanical garden sends the samples, packed individually, to a scientist at N.C. State University. He analyzes the swabs and determines which creatures may have it. With that information, said Hill, scientists can pinpoint where the fungus has shown up in the Georgia hills. They also can determine which species may have the fungus, and if they appear resistant to it. Repeat trips will indicate whether the salamanders are flourishing or succumbing to the fungus. In time, say scientists, such findings may have a global impact. What's collected from the belly skin of a Blue Ridge two-line salamander, for example, might save a golden frog in Panama. For Hill, that means making frequent trips to the hills to turn over rocks in chilled streams. It means bumping into the occasional assassin bug, perhaps better known by its well-deserved nickname - "stink bug." It means rediscovering why crayfish aren't pleasant. "You get pinched sometimes," he said. Hill hovered over a moss-fuzzed rock, then peeled away the green covering. Two tails vanished in the wet dirt. "Got one of them." The sun winked and rose over the ridge. Hill worked a 25-foot length of creek like an angler, taking a few steps before pausing at a promising spot. Salamandering, he says, is like fishing. "You throw back the little ones and keep the ones you can use." Some Georgia salamanders, such as Desmognathus wrighti, the appropriately named pygmy salamander, are barely inches long. On the other end of the spectrum is Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, which easily exceeds 2 feet. It also has an apt name: Hellbender. Hill bent and dug into a pile of moss. Something the color of dark honey zipped past. It was fast, but Hill was faster. He cradled a 4-inch salamander, its markings as distinct as cloisonne jewelry. A two-line or three-line salamander? Hill frowned. He'd have to check his field guide. The salamander wriggled its honey-hued head between Hill's thumb and index finger, trying to escape. "It's beautiful," he said. "When you say 'beautiful amphibian,' people always think about frogs in South America. They don't realize that we have these things right here. And they're just as pretty." His take for the day? Thirty-two salamanders, comprising five species - Ocoee, black belly, two-line, spring, and spotted dusky salamanders. He took a swab from each, photographed them, then returned the creatures to their cold home. He didn't finish until the sun was beginning to slide past the western ridges of Rabun County. "That's a pretty good day," Hill said. He'll go back this summer, seeking a secret in Georgia's muck and goo. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3. Threatened Frog Gets Help from Federal Biologists by Susan Montoya Bryan of the Las Cruces-Sun News on April 17th, 2008 A spotted frog at the center of a lawsuit over habitat protection is getting some special help from federal biologists. The threatened Chiricahua leopard frog-once found at hundreds of moist sites across the Southwest-has been reduced to a handful of places in New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. Experts say the amphibian has disappeared from at least 80 percent of its historic range due to disease, predators and climate change. In an effort to bolster the frog's numbers, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in New Mexico have reared 15 frogs in a special tank and will release them next week at a warm spring on private land in central New Mexico. Similar efforts in Arizona have been successful, but this release will be a first for New Mexico. Melissa Kreutzian, an agency biologist in Albuquerque, said Thursday she's excited about the release and wants to expand the effort with more tanks to raise more frogs followed by more releases. "We hope we can give them a little push in numbers," said Kreutzian, who has spent the last few months feeding and caring for the frogs in a back room at her office. Kreutzian said around 33 Chiricahua leopard frog populations were surveyed in 2002, when the frog was first listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Those populations have been dwindling, and she said many have fewer than 10 frogs each. In addition to global warming and predators like bullfrogs, biologists are concerned about chytrid, a fungus that has been impacting frogs throughout the world. "It could be that one other factor that just gets the frog," Kreutzian said. Chiricahua leopard frogs raised in the tank will be weighed and measured and checked to make sure they're healthy before being put in individual containers-with moist towels and crickets inside-for the trip to the Truth or Consequences area. Biologists will survey the area and give the frogs time to acclimate before turning them loose at the spring where they were first found as tadpoles last November. The frog's haunts-from springs and drainages to stock tanks-are the subject of a lawsuit filed last week by WildEarth Guardians, which accuses the Fish and Wildlife Service of failing to designate critical habitat for the frog. The group contends that designating habitat would help protect the frog's environment from livestock grazing and other threats. However, agency officials said without the restrictions of critical habitat, they have been able to cooperate better with private landowners, making projects like next week's release possible. "It's just crucial to have their involvement and insight," Kreutzian said of the landowners. Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said the agency should not look to private cooperation as a reason not to designate critical habitat for the frog. She said the frogs also live on public land and that protecting all habitat is imperative to the species' survival. "It's a Band-Aid solution," Rosmarino said of next week's release of frogs. "If they don't fix the habitat and protect the habitat, these reintroductions are going to be for nothing."

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