The race to save frogs from extinction

The Australian lace-lid (Nyctimystes dayi) tree frog (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

The Australian lace-lid (Nyctimystes dayi) tree frog (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Biologist Jodi Rowley worries that future generations will never get to hear the sound of a frog at night. One-third of frogs are at risk of extinction, Rowley explains at TEDxYouth@Sydney, and the world had already lost 200 species of the animal. Merely muddying a steam or slightly changing an area’s vegetation can harm the creatures, she says, so “climate change and pollution are pushing frogs to the edge.”

And when frogs disappear, ecosystems are completely transformed, Rowley says. Without tadpoles, streams clog with algae, and without mature frogs, predators go without food. And worse — “no other animal steps up to fill their role,” Rowley says, “even years after they are gone.”

Not only do frogs affect landscapes and animal life, but they also have a direct impact on humans, Rowley says. For one, frogs control mosquito populations, which helps stop the spread of disease, and, two, they produce infection-fighting chemicals that could be used in human medicine; the Australian red-eyed tree frog, for example, produces chemicals with anti-HIV properties, she says.

A red-eyed tree frog, which produces chemicals that could help in the development of new drugs for humans (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

A red-eyed tree frog (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

In her efforts to better understand (and protect) frogs, Rowley went searching for undiscovered species in Cambodia. “The forests of southeast Asia were disappearing at a dramatic rate and we didn’t even know how many frog species there were in the region, never mind how they were doing. It was a black hole in our knowledge of frogs.”

Rowley and her team found robust populations of frogs — and discovered 21 species yet to be seen by scientists. Highlights include the vampire flying frog, a frog whose tadpoles have black fangs that are used to scoop eggs out of tree holes.

The vampire flying frog, a fanged frog discovered by Rowley and colleagues (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

The vampire flying frog, a fanged frog discovered by Rowley and colleagues (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Vampire flying frog eggs buried in a tree hole (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Vampire flying frog eggs buried in a tree hole (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Others include the Helen’s flying frog, which uses its giant feet as mock-parachutes when gliding from the tree canopy to ponds below and the Quang’s tree frog, a green-blooded frog that sings like a bird and lays its eggs on the tips of leaves.

The Helen's flying frog, a frog adapted for gliding from trees to ponds (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

The Helen’s flying frog, a frog especially adapted for gliding from trees to ponds (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Quang’s tree frog eggs  (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Quang’s tree frog eggs (Photo: Jodi Rowley)

Rowley is sure that more frogs remain undiscovered and urges people to fight against frog extinction, before it’s too late to find them.

To learn more, watch Rowley’s whole talk below:

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