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Another Perspective — Native amphibians in trouble

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By Eric Martin

Las Vegas Optic

The USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative released a study this summer that states amphibian populations in the U.S. are declining at a rate of 3.7 percent  a year from the habitats they currently occupy. According to amphibianark.org, 165 is the “estimated number of amphibian species believed to have already gone extinct” and 500 is “the estimated number of amphibian species whose threats cannot be mitigated quickly enough to stave off extinction.”

Other than the influence they have had on history, folklore and human development, amphibians are very important ecologically. They are an integral part of many ecosystems, and they are an indicator species, which means they indicate to scientists how good or bad the environment is doing in certain parts of the world.  

The reasons for this drastic change in populations include habitat loss, climate change and disease. What seems to be the more obvious issue locally is the continuous seemingly perpetual drought that has struck New Mexico over the last few years. The suddenly great monsoon season that arrived this summer won’t go far, according to professionals, and soon New Mexico’s wildlife, including amphibious species, will be seeing the worst of the drought once again.

Jesus Rivas, a biologist and herpetologist at New Mexico Highlands University, says there has been a noticeable drop in amphibian populations but that it is not solely due to the drought. He and his research team performed a study this summer on the effects of the non-native American Bullfrog in New Mexico.  

According to Rivas, the drought has played a big role in the drop in populations of amphibians. But the overpopulation of Bullfrogs in the area is also having a big impact.  

The American Bullfrog, which can grow to a weight of 1.5 pounds and a length of 8 inches, has been a threat to Native amphibian species in New Mexico since it was introduced 100 years ago. The drought has resulted in a loss of habitat and food for all amphibians, but while the native species may lose a huge portion of their diet, the bullfrog still has the ability to eat most anything smaller than it, including insects, small reptiles, the tadpoles of other species and even fully grown native amphibians. The bullfrog also has the ability to force other amphibians out of small aquatic areas. It has no natural predators in New Mexico, giving it the ability to overpopulate.

These issues pose a threat to the frogs, toads and salamanders of New Mexico. Local ecological organizations have been exterminating bullfrog tadpoles by the hundreds in an effort to preserve native species. This July,  scientists introduced hundreds of Northern Leopard Frogs to the Valles Caldera, a habitat they were said to have gone extinct from 30 years ago. And, on Sept. 10,  the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the Jemez Mountain Salamander was finally added to the Federal Endangered Species List.

This species is found only in New Mexico and more than one third  of its habitat has been destroyed by wildfires since 1997.

Hopefully it will be a turning point for this humble creature. At least  we can depend on the local scientific community to help us work our way through this problem.

We all need to be concerned about the plight of these species because they are an integral part of our ecosystem. When they start dying off, it’s a sign that we might be in trouble in the not too distant future.

Eric Martin is a Robertson High School sophomore and works for the Optic as an intern. He may be reached at emartin@gmail.com