In Puerto Rico, PATILLAS, a sound curtain surrounds two researchers while making their way beside a mountain during darkness, and sometimes hacking with the help of machete in order to reach at the mouth of some small cave.
In tropical night, staccato whistles, peeps and tweets fill up the air. Untrained ears would consider it as a noise mishmash. For experts who are tracking the decline in the number of amphibians, it is like symphony with some players not showing up.
In some Puerto Rico’s parts, for instance, there’re places where the researchers heard four species at one time and now they hear only two or one, which is a slight but very important change.
Alberto Lopez, who is in a team of husband as well as wife trying to measure health of the frogs on this island, said, “You are not hearing what you were before.”
According to scientists, many amphibians’ types, mainly frogs, happen to be in steep decline worldwide, probably caused by habitat loss, virulent fungus, pollution and climate change. This decrease in number is especially striking in Caribbean, where a lot many species are losing the fragile grip in this ecosystem now.
Without any latest measures being introduced, with fifteen years, there can be the decline in Caribbean frogs’ number massively, Adrell Nunez warned, who is an expert at amphibians in “Santo Domingo Zoo” in the Republic of Dominican. He said that “There are classes that we literally know nothing about” which could get lost.
Researchers like Lopez and Ana Longo, his wife, have been going across Caribbean and coming back with troubling evidence regarding the decline. In places, especially Haiti, where immense deforestation adds up to other problems, even extinction is possible.
This is but a part of the sad picture. “International Union for the Conservation of Nature” has got to know that about 32% of the amphibian species in the world are getting extinct or being threatened, including about 200 plus only in Colombia and Mexico.
Jan Zegarra, a Puerto Rico based biologist for “U.S Fish and Wildlife Service” said, “Everywhere we are seeing declines and it’s severe.”
Frogs could be less attractive than other species that are troubled, but the role they play in environment is very important. Frogs are eaten up by snakes and birds which in turn form major mosquito predators. Their absence would give rise to increase in dengue and malaria.
There exists less tangible cause for protection. Coqui, a common genus name having 17 species at Puerto Rico, also including those three which are thought to be extinct already, is quite significant to this island’s cultural heritage; it is considered to be one of this island’s symbols, visible in everything, be it coffee mugs or indigenous petroglyphs sold at airport to the tourists. They breath, process toxins via skin and so are considered important area for the research of pharmaceuticals and as bio-indicator that could tell scientists what’s happening in the surrounding environment.
A biologist with New Mexico Tech, Jamie Voyles, said, “We are just starting to understand the ripple down effects and the repercussions of losing amphibians.”
The biologist at University of Puerto Rico, Rafael Joglar has also observed the lessening of the nighttime calls during research for decades on this island and from not only the three believed-to-be extinct species. He said, “Many of the other species that were common when I was a younger student … are now disappearing and are actually very rare.”
In the terms of percentage, the worst state of frogs is in Caribbean, where above 80% species are extinct or threatened in Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba and above 90% in Haiti, as according to “International Union for the Conservation of Nature”. Its near 70% in Puerto Rico.
Joglar said, “The frogs in the Caribbean are in very bad shape.”
An important reason Caribbean is this exposed is the presence of many species within small habitat in only one island. For instance, I we consider rock frog, it is size of golf ball and is known to be habitat specialist, living only in the caves in some volcanic rock near streams in Puerto Rico towards the southeastern side.
17 spots are designated by “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service” as the habitat which is critical for rock frog. Lopez and Longo are trying to find out health of populations on these isolated patches.
Lopez said, “That’s why it’s such a vulnerable species. If something happens to the habitat, people can’t just grab them and put them in another place on the island because this habitat is only found on the southeast of the island.”
In the over-populated Haiti, environment’s degradation has been too severe to the extent that only few of the species are still viable in country but even those suffer from problems, as S. Blair Hedges, a professor at University of Pennsylvania State pointed out.
He said, “I’m really certain that some species are going over the edge, are disappearing.”
Frogs throughout the world have faced siege from the fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is, also known as Bd, which is famous for killing and amphibians since late 1990s but much regarding it is under study, as told by Voyles. However, its effects are dramatic.
She said, “When I first went to Panama the sounds at night were incredible and now it’s just silent. It’s hard to communicate the absence of that incredible cacophony of beautiful sounds. It’s very striking how much we have lost.”
The research on this fungus is carried on by Longo and Lopez too, who have caught frogs in forest and after examining them for ticks and Bd, released them in the night. They have been doing this from quite a time and have started to find the fungus living in “coquiguajon” and still are looking for ways by which it could affect population.
After some effort, researchers were able to find many specimens but they were disappointed to verify that a place which was designated to be critical did not have even one “coquiguajon”. As they said, “To our surprise, the habitat is there, but no frogs, no frogs at all.”