MONTREAL – Frogs have been around for millions of years, but if humans keep ruining the planet, these important members of the food chain face extinction, biologists around the globe are warning.
One-third to one-half of the world’s 6,000 species of amphibians – frogs, toads and salamanders – could disappear if nothing is done, the experts warn, a loss some are calling the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.
"In the past 50 years, 120 different species have disappeared forever," David Rodrigue, director of the Ecomuseum in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que., said Friday.
Do away with frogs and there will be more mosquitoes and, therefore, more possible carriers of viruses like West Nile, he said.
"When you hear less and less frog noise at the chalet, that’s a sign frogs are disappearing at an alarming rate," said Rachel Leger, director of Montreal’s Biodome.
Air and water pollution, loss of habitat, climate change and pesticides are some of the causes for their disappearance.
Frogs drink through their skin, so if water is polluted, they can be poisoned. They are cold blooded, meaning their body temperature is the same as the air. Global warming can drive their internal temperature to harmful levels.
A fast-growing disease spread by the amphibian chytrid fungus is ravaging frog populations, particularly in tropical areas.
Global conservation groups have declared 2008 the Year of the Frog, and the six Quebec organizations hope to raise awareness of the threat to frogs, spur people to action, and raise much-needed cash to fund research.
The Ecomuseum, the Biodome, the Granby Zoo, Parc Safari, le Parc Aquarium of Quebec City and the Zoo Sauvage of St. Felicien are all starting educational programs to teach visitors about saving frogs.
They are breeding certain endangered species of frogs in captivity and funding research into fighting the fungal disease.
"There are 500 other species that will become extinct in our lifetime, no matter what we do," Rodrigue said.
"The message isn’t just that there’s a crisis, but that we have to act quickly."
The presence of frogs is a clear sign of balance in the ecosystem, Rodrigue added.
Frogs and other amphibians control the population levels of insects, both agricultural pests and disease carriers.
Development is encroaching into wetlands, destroying frog habitats. Pollution of lakes, rivers and streams, as well as air pollution, is taking a toll.
"Any effort to help the environment, either recycling, cleaning up the shoreline or not using pesticides – anything – will help," Rodrigue said.
Ecomuseum visitors Olivier Mathieu, five, and Cedric Marcil, 11, got up close Friday to the largest species of frog in North America, the bullfrog, common in the St. Lawrence River valley.
At this point, bullfrogs aren’t endangered.
"It had a gooey feel," Olivier said.
"I didn’t like it; it was slippery and soft," Cedric said.
For more information, go to the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums website at www.caza.ca and click on Year of the Frog