Updated Species Database Will Help Boost Amphibian Conservation Across the National Park Service

A toad sits on red sand.

Woodhouse's toad, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

National Parks are Helping Vulnerable Amphibians

When we think about wildlife in the national parks, frogs might not be the first animal that spring to mind. But frogs and other amphibians are highly sensitive to environmental change, so their presence, their absence, and their abundance tell us a lot about overall ecosystem health.

In a lot of cases, the news is not good. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 35% of known amphibian species in North America are described as vulnerable in at least some part of their range. And research has shown that on average, US amphibian populations are declining at a rate of approximately 4% annually. The good news is that National Park Service (NPS) lands support a whopping 65% of amphibian diversity in the US, while only covering about 3.5% of the nation's total area. All of this makes amphibians a high priority for conservation efforts by park managers. A recent project by ecologists from the Inventory & Monitoring Division (I&M) will make that work easier.

A salamander swims to shore.

Western tiger salamander, Teton Range, Wyoming.

Reliable Data Promote Solid Stewardship

To steward amphibians effectively, managers need basic information about which species live in parks. The main source for species information in the national parks is NPSpecies, the National Park Service’s web-based tool where anyone can go to learn about the occurrence and status of species in the national parks.

But species lists need constant maintenance to remain accurate. So scientists from the NPS I&M division and the US Geological Survey worked with amphibian experts around the US to update the NPSpecies data on amphibian occurrences across the National Park System. Many parks already had a list of amphibian species observed within their borders, but in many cases, the lists had not been updated to incorporate recent observations or changes in taxonomy. To create the updated database, scientists combed through old and new park-level records.

A small, long-toed treefrog the color of sandstone clings to a standstone rock.

Canyon tree frog, Grand Canyon National Park.

What We Know Now

The NPS now has an up-to-date amphibian species checklist for almost 300 parks. The new dataset contains occurrence records for 292 of the 424 NPS units and includes updated taxonomy, international and state conservation rankings, hyperlinks to a supporting reference for each record, specific notes, and related fields which can be used to better understand and manage amphibian biodiversity within a single park or group of parks.

A total of 230 amphibian species were noted as present in national parks. This represents 65% of the 354 species present in the US. Parks in the Southeast and Northeast (where salamander species outnumber species of frogs and toads) had more species than those in the western two-thirds of the country. In total, 40 species of frogs and toads and 96 species of salamanders were documented in the Southeast. The Blue Ridge Parkway, a 470-mile corridor extending along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has 46 amphibian species documented (5 others listed as possibly present and 2 as adjacent) representing 5 families of salamanders and 19 species from the genus Desmognathus alone. In contrast, Yellowstone National Park—at 3,468 mi2, one of the largest in the continental US—has just 5 species. Parks in the southwest had the greatest fraction (~25%) of species considered at-risk: classified as near threatened, vulnerable, or endangered.

A small, dark-red salamander in grass on a rock.

Sierra newt, Yosemite National Park.

How is this Information Being Used?

Conserving at-risk wildlife, including amphibians, is an uphill battle. But with an updated list of amphibians in parks, we can begin to characterize how common or rare individual species are, identify their primary threats (e.g., climate change and invasive species) and describe the conservation benefits of protecting additional habitat inside or outside park boundaries. This information can mean the difference between taking conservation actions for at-risk species versus overlooking their needs. For example, parks undertaking management actions that affect wetlands need to know which species are present in those areas—and can use this list. Parks preparing to perform eDNA or other inventories can use the database to identify target species. And more broadly, knowing which species are in a park is the first step to identifying climate vulnerabilities. This work also serves as a model for other scientists seeking to improve the information available on other taxonomic groups in the national parks. Conservation efforts require up-to-date, place-based knowledge. With this effort, the NPS is modeling what that looks like for efforts to support amphibian biodiversity.

A frog peeks out of a burrow of dried grass.

Columbia spotted frog, Yellowstone National Park.

For more information on this project, read A Dataset of Amphibian Species in US National Parks, by B.J. LaFrance, A.M. Ray, R.N. Fisher, and others. Scientific Data (11)32 (2024).


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Last updated: May 1, 2024