Absent amphibians a cause for concern
One evening last spring I decided to take a walk in my favorite turkey woods in the off chance of hearing a turkey gobble before nightfall. The path took me along a marshy area and to a steep creekbank where I knew turkeys often roosted. I didn’t hear a turkey that evening and, in retrospect, nothing else, either. Usually I hear a chorus of spring peepers because they gather in aggregations of several hundred, commonly breeding in the wetlands through which I was walking. Just like the honking of Canada geese in the fall, the chirping of peepers tells me spring is officially here regardless of the date on the calendar. What surprised me was the spring peepers that I normally hear heralding the season were strangely silent that night. It never occurred to me there might be a problem.
Later in May I was walking along the same woodland path when I almost stepped on a red eft, the land stage of the red spotted newt. It was the first one I saw all spring and I remember thinking it was remarkable I saw so few of them. Normally, these woodland creatures are all over the place and at times it’s difficult not to step on one, but this spring it seems things were different.
It seems I wasn’t the only one to notice the decline of these amphibians because scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying their populations for the past 10 years and have come to the sad conclusion these and other amphibians like frogs, toads and salamanders are vanishing from even protected habitats at an alarming rate. The really scary part is that scientists say this decline isn’t limited to New York but is widespread, from Florida to the Rockies. What’s worse, no one seems to know why, but indications are factors such as disease, drought and chemical contaminants may be having a profound effect on amphibian populations across the country.
Amphibians have been on this planet for the past 350 million years and have survived that long because of their ability to adapt to changing climate conditions, but the study shows these creatures are facing something that exceeds their ability to cope, and that’s an alarming thought.