Approximately one third of all amphibian species are either threatened, endangered or extinct – a greater percentage than birds, mammals or reptiles. Amphibians are thought to be especially sensitive to changes in their environment due to their moist, permeable skin, which they use for a variety of functions (in fact, one family of salamanders, the Plethodontidae, have no lungs and breathe exclusively through their skin). Throughout the world, populations of amphibians are declining due to various factors like pollution, habitat loss, climate change and disease, as well as combinations of these. Amphibian declines first became apparent during the 70’s, and have continued into the present day. Many times, the reason for an amphibian population’s disappearance is unknown. The most common culprit blamed for ambiguous tropical amphibian extinctions is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, the amphibian chytrid fungus.
My name is Meredith Swartwout, and I conducted my undergraduate research at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA working in the laboratory of Dr. Lisa Belden. At Virginia Tech I assisted in research investigating the use of bacteria from the skin of amphibians in order to inoculate and protect amphibians from Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd for short. In Summer 2013, I travelled to Panama to volunteer with the Panama Amphibian Rescue Conservation project for local education, and worked with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on an already established research proposal studying the skin bacteria of Panamanian frogs. Panama is a hotspot for amphibian conservation, due to the large number of endemic and unique species, and the presence of chytrid in the region. Already, Panama’s national frog and the frog pictured on my banner, the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), may be extinct in the wild, along with many other rare tropical species. Fortunately, due to the conservation efforts implemented before the chytrid fungus reached the area, there are several established populations of some threatened species of frogs in captivity. All hope is not lost for the Panamanian golden frog, and others like it, but it is essential that their habitats be preserved if there is ever to be a chance of returning them to the wild. I aim to support amphibian conservation efforts like these, through public outreach as well as research. I would like to encourage you, the reader, to ask questions and get involved. If you want more information, would like to ask questions or just have a comment related to this site or to frog conservation in general, feel free to leave me a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Every little bit we can do helps, but it is when all of us are working together, that we will truly see a marked change in the world.