Why Should We Help Amphibians?

Posted by Jonathan Twining on Feb 19, 2015 2:00:00 PM

Did you know that 2014 was designated by the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation as the Year of the Salamander? The purpose of this was to raise awareness of salamanders and improve salamander conservation, research, and education globally. Why go to all this effort to help an amphibian? Why do amphibians - frogs and salamanders - matter? Why should we care if amphibians go extinct?

Salamander-2-JonTwiningWhile there are many reasons I could cite for the importance of amphibians, for the sake of brevity, I want to focus on just one - amphibians represent an early warning system for the health of the environment. Let me explain. In the old days, coal miners used to take canaries into the mines to detect toxic and explosive gases before they could affect the humans. This worked because the canaries were more sensitive to these gases and would collapse - a sign to the humans that it was time to get out of the mine and make some changes to the way they were doing things.

Likewise, amphibians are sensitive to many human-induced changes in the environment. Amphibians are routinely affected by habitat loss, increased UV radiation from the hole in the ozone layer, global climate change, chytrid fungus, and pollution. In particular, their thin skins are susceptible to water pollution, and we start finding amphibians with incredible deformities. If amphibians can be affected by the pollution, imagine what is happening to humans exposed to those same pollutants. When we start to see amphibian numbers decline globally, it is an indication that the environment is not healthy, and we need to make changes to the way we do things.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has reported that approximately 32% of amphibians are threatened with extinction worldwide, and 165 species may already have disappeared. If we lose a species it can never be replaced: extinction is forever. It is time for us to listen to what the amphibians are telling us and make efforts to restore our planet.

By early April, ENC biology and environmental science students will have the opportunity to learn more about amphibian biodiversity as we begin to explore vernal pools in our area. ENC students are already working with South Shore Natural Science Center (SSNSC) this semester to create the content for QR codes that will be placed along vernal pools on their trail system. Hikers can use their cell phones to scan the QR code and learn about vernal pools from our students. We will also be completing a survey of the five vernal pools on SSNSC’s property in Norwell. Follow ENC Environmental Science on Facebook to follow the photos and videos that will be coming out of these projects.


There is another unique opportunity to learn more about amphibians as “canaries in the coal mine” coming up at ENC. On March 27, Dr. John Cossel, Professor of Biology at Northwest Nazarene University, will be a guest speaker at an event jointly sponsored by the ENC Biology Department and the Honors Program. Dr. Cossel brings with him a photographic exhibit called “Naked Canaries: A Photographic Exploration of the Beauty and Biology of Amphibians, the Causes of their Declines and their Message for us all.” For a couple of weeks leading up to this event, his photographic exhibit will be on display in the Nease Library on campus. Find out more on the website - this is an event you won’t want to miss!

For more information, please feel free to contact Prof. Jonathan Twining at Jonathan.Twining@enc.edu. For more on the Biology Department at ENC, download the Fact Sheet!


Photo: "Naked Canary" used with permission by Dr. John Cossel

Written by Jonathan Twining

Jonathan Twining teaches the ecology and environmental science courses for the Biology Department and is the advisor for the Animal Caretakers Team (ACT). Twining worked for a number of years as an environmental scientist and project manager with consulting firms in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He has been very active in the greater community, partnering ENC students with organizations like the Quincy DPW, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon, the South Shore Natural Science Center, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. His passion and primary research interest is the ecology and conservation of vernal pool habitats. He has written numerous articles for NCM Magazine, and has been a speaker in local congregations about the care of creation (environmental stewardship).

Topics: ENC Faculty, Academics