Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Amphibians in losing race with environmental change

02.05.2007
Even though they had the ability to evolve and survive for hundreds of millions of years - since before the time of the dinosaurs and through many climatic regimes - the massive, worldwide decline of amphibians can best be understood by their inability to keep pace with the current rate of global change, a new study suggests.

The basic constraints of evolution and the inability of species to adapt quickly enough can explain most of the causes that are leading one species after another of amphibians into decline or outright extinction, say researchers from Oregon State University, in a study published today in the journal BioScience.

"We know that there are various causes for amphibian population declines, including UV-B light exposure, habitat loss, pesticide pollution, infections and other issues," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at OSU and one of the world's leading experts on amphibian decline.

"But looked at in a different way, it's not just that there are threats and pressures amphibians have to deal with," Blaustein said. "There have always been threats, and these have been some of the most adaptive and successful vertebrate animals on Earth. They were around before the dinosaurs, have lived in periods with very different climates, and continued to thrive while many other species went extinct. But right now, they just can't keep up."

It has been estimated that the rate of plant and animal extinction is greater now than any known in the last 100,000 years, the researchers note in their report. Amphibians are of particular interest because their physiology and complex life cycle often exposes them to a wider range of environmental changes than other species must face – they have permeable skin, live on both land and water, their eggs have no shells.

In the face of these challenges, amphibians appear to be losing the battle – of 5,743 known species of amphibians on Earth, 43 percent 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.

Many animal species lay their eggs communally or congregate socially, often to avoid predation or improve resource use. But global warming has caused higher levels of certain infectious diseases of some amphibians, and it spreads more easily in closely connected communities.

"Although relatively rapid evolution may occur within some amphibian populations when a novel threat arises, other threats may be too intense and too new for amphibians to cope with them," the researchers wrote in their report. "Behaviors and ecological attributes that have probably persisted, and were probably beneficial, for millions of years . . . under today's conditions may subject amphibians to a variety of damaging agents."

Natural selection and species adaptation may, in time, allow amphibians to react to and recover from the new environmental insults, Blaustein said, if they don't go extinct first.

But evolution is an erratic, often slow and imperfect system, and the complexities of amphibian life cycles makes them more immediately vulnerable than many other species, the researchers said.

Andrew Blaustein | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.oregonstate.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fraunhofer ISE Pushes World Record for Multicrystalline Silicon Solar Cells to 22.3 Percent

25.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Usher syndrome: Gene therapy restores hearing and balance

25.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

An international team of physicists a coherent amplification effect in laser excited dielectrics

25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>