The Role of Amphibians

While amphibians may not be the most flamboyant group of animals that inhabit this park, they do much to make their presence here felt. All amphibians are voracious carnivores, with appetites that are only sated by dozens of insects each time they hunt. The insects they eat would otherwise graze on plants, lowering the amount of carbon dioxide that would have been released by these insects as they breathed. The amount of carbon sequestered by salamanders this way can really add up: over 200 kg/hectare. The tadpoles of frogs eat countless mosquito larvae, helping control the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses in humans.

In addition to their insect control services, amphibians serve as a dietary staple for many of the park’s shorebirds and reptiles. Great blue herons, egrets, water snakes, and many others depend on frogs as a reliable source of food.

Aside from predators, amphibians face a variety of threats from humans. The misuse of pesticides in agriculture and landscaping, as well as the improper disposal of chemicals, pose a serious threat to amphibians, especially salamanders, whose larvae often require pure water to develop normally. Introduced exotic species such as the Northern snakehead—and even domestic cats—put additional stress on amphibian populations. It is probable that the most imminent threat to amphibians, a fungal infection called chytridiomycosis, was introduced as humans transport specimens from place to place. It is killing incomprehensible numbers of animals. Many amphibians, from the Shenandoah salamander of Virginia, to the golden frog of Panama, to the Paghman stream salamander of Afghanistan are edging closer to extinction as a result.

On a larger scale, amphibians face a combination of suburban development and climate change, both of which are shrinking and altering their habitats. Although they face a formidable combination of threats, there is still hope if ordinary people take action and make simple changes. For information on simple things you can do to help amphibians in your area read How Tos and Tips from the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Last updated: April 28, 2015

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