Amphibian conservation crisis in Southeast Asia

09 December 2009

Enormous numbers of frogs, toads and other amphibians in Southeast Asia face extinction through habitat loss and over-harvesting researchers warn in an article published today in Biology Letters.

There are over 800 known amphibian species inhabiting the region, however, an international team of researchers, led by Jodi Rowley of the Australian Museum say that this figure is likely to represent only a fraction of the actual number of species.  Very little is known about Southeast Asian amphibian populations and what is known gives cause for alarm.  Of the known species almost one-fifth are listed as threatened, with more than a third being listed as “data-deficient” (meaning that too little is known about them to make an accurate judgement on their status).

The most immediate threat to the amphibians comes from the destruction of their habitat.  Southeast Asia is currently undergoing intensive deforestation; if this continues at current rates, almost three quarters of the current forest is expected to disappear by 2100.  Most amphibians in the region cannot survive outside their native forest habitats and several species are already thought to have been wiped out by the destruction of their territory.  Harvesting of amphibians for food, traditional medicine and the pet trade is also likely to be provoking declining numbers, although research in this area is virtually non-existent, and urgently needs to be prioritised if conservation efforts are to be successful.

The authors advocate establishing strict protection areas for regions where the greatest number of amphibians are most under threat.  However, current knowledge is so limited that a great deal of further research is urgently required to identify and prioritise protection areas.  Dr Rowley states that “Southeast Asian amphibians are facing a perfect storm of conservation crisis and impending extinction.  The understudied nature of the amphibian fauna suggests that many more species are under threat than we can presently detect”.