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Canaries in a Coal Mine?


The global decline of amphibians has received a great deal of attention because amphibians are thought to be indicator species, or ’canaries in a coal mine’ that provide an early warning of environmental degradation. The topic has drawn considerable scientific attention because there is no obvious, simple cause. Researchers are pursuing a handful of explanations for worldwide losses of amphibian populations that are likely to affect all species. Thus, understanding the complexity of the amphibian decline case may provide insight as to how other species, including humans, may be affected by changes in the environment.

In a forthcoming special issue of Diversity and Distributions, several of the leading hypotheses for amphibian declines are addressed in a comprehensive volume for the first time in a primary scientific journal. In an introductory paper, Dr. James Collins (Arizona State University) and Dr. Andrew Storfer (Washington State University) establish a framework for studying the leading explanations. Leaders in the field then provide comprehensive reviews of the effects of: introduced non-native species (Lee Kats and Ryan Ferrer, Pepperdine University), increased ultraviolet radiation and chemical contaminants (Andrew Blaustein, Oregon State University, and others), global warming (Cynthia Carey and Michael Alexander, University of Colorado), and emerging infectious diseases (Peter Daszak, Consortium for Conservation Medicine, and others). Finally, future directions in amphibian conservation research are discussed in a summary article by the guest editor of the volume, Dr. Storfer.

The worldwide decline of amphibians is part of a general biodiversity crisis. Amphibians are clearly not canaries, but they are likely sending us the same message - our environment is changing and we are in danger if we don’t pay attention!

Emily Davis | alfa
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