February 17, 2009

Salamanders Declining in Latin America

My research on amphibian declines focuses almost exclusively on mountain yellow-legged frogs. As such, it is easy to forget the fact that the amphibian decline phenomenon has a global reach and that these declines affect a huge diversity of amphibian species. Compared to the large body of evidence showing declines in frogs and toads, evidence for salamander declines has been sparse but a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (available here) brings these declines into startling focus. Rovito et al. describe the disappearance of multiple salamander species from montane sites in Mexico and Guatemala (figure from paper showing these declines is shown to left). Surveys conducted at the study sites in the 1970s turned up more than 70 salamanders per visit but surveys in 2005-2007 at the same sites turned up fewer than five salamanders per visit. Several of the most common species during the 1970s were not found during any of the recent surveys and may be extinct.

Given the very high diversity of salamanders in the Neotropics these declines suggest that many salamander species may be at much higher risk of extinction than has been appreciated. Unfortunately the cause of the declines described by Rovito et al. remains obscure. The amphibian chytrid fungus was detected on some salamanders at the study sites and could be a contributing factor as could climate change.

Back to The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Site.

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