Hard Times for Toads

Nature Notes

Amphibians have been having a pretty hard go of it lately. Numerous studies have shown that worldwide amphibian populations are on the decline. Worse yet, in May the US Geological Survey released a study that supports this worldwide trend and indicates that US amphibian populations, even ones previously thought to be stable, are also declining.

There are more than a couple reasons to pay close attention to this issue. Amphibians’ unique life cycle makes them very sensitive to their environment, usually much more so than other groups of animals like mammals or reptiles. Additionally, because amphibians “breathe” through their skin, they also tend to have a greater sensitivity to pollutants as they are more easily absorbed from their surrounding environment.

What this means is that amphibians, like this American toad found at Winton Woods, serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They can give scientists an idea of what the general health of an ecosystem may be and may indicate problems in an area long before other animals and plants show signs of being affected.

american toad

So what can individuals do to help? Not dumping chemicals into waterways is a start. Taking care when you select herbicides and pesticides, and applying them as recommended on the label, is also important. Building rain gardens, vernal pools and wetlands can also help to provide habitat for not just amphibians but also a whole host of other native species too. Lastly, it’s crucial not to take frogs and salamanders you find home as pets. Most do not do well as house pets and they would be happier remaining out in the wild.

Garrett Dienno, Seasonal Aquatic Resource Technician

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