The Amphibian Extinction Crisis - what will it take to put the action into the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan?

P. J. Bishop, A. Angulo, J. P. Lewis, R.D. Moore, G. B. Rabb and J. Garcia Moreno


The current mass extinction episode is most apparent in the amphibians. With approximately 7,000 species, amphibians are dependent on clean fresh water and damp habitats and are considered vulnerable to habitat loss (deforestation), changes in water or soil quality and the potential impacts of climate change, and in addition many species are suffering from an epidemic caused by a chytrid fungus. Because of their sensitivity and general dependence on both terrestrial and aquatic habitats they are often regarded as indicators of the health of the environment. The latest figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™ show that there are nearly as many species of amphibians categorised as Threatened as those of Threatened birds and mammals put together, with an estimated 40% of amphibian species in danger of extinction. Furthermore, although amphibians have survived multiple previous global mass extinctions, in the last 20-40 years precipitous population declines have taken place on a scale not previously seen.

Although amphibian declines were first reported in the 1950s, the magnitude and global scope of the problem were only fully realised during discussions at the 1st World Congress of Herpetology in England in 1989. Shortly thereafter, the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF) was established by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) to investigate the causes and severity of the declines. Many projects and publications were stimulated by the DAPTF and the results of these prompted the IUCN to conduct a global amphibian assessment in 2004.

IUCN SSC’s Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP) was published in 2007, following an Amphibian Conservation Summit held in 2005. The ACAP identified the key issues that require attention in order to curb this crisis, and provided the framework for interventions. While there have been significant efforts in the last five years, the response to the crisis has not progressed across all areas of the action plan at a scale sufficient to halt the crisis. As a direct result, species continue to decline and go extinct.

Finding solutions to counter amphibian declines and extinctions is one of the greatest conservation challenges of the century, which comes with alarming and serious implications for the health of ecosystems globally. The Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA), launched in June 2011, acts as a global partnership for amphibian conservation. It is in a pivotal position to implement the ACAP, acting to mobilise a motivated and effective consortium of organisations working together to stem the rapid losses of amphibian populations and species worldwide. The Alliance brings focus, coordination, and leadership in addressing one of the world’s most serious extinction crises. Its goal is the restoration of all threatened native amphibian species to their natural roles and population levels in ecosystems worldwide. The recently formed Amphibian Survival Alliance will address the multiple ACAP issues with several new initiatives, including creating a web-based ‘living’ version of ACAP and driving the implementation of the ACAP themes in a more progressive and collaborative manner than ever before, thereby stemming the loss of an important part of the biological diversity of our planet.  

Mindi Messmer