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August 22, 2008

One small pod for scientists, one giant leap for endangered frogs

Posted: 12:01 PM ET

Working in a modified shipping cargo container may not sound like a great assignment for a scientist. But several amphibian experts in Atlanta are welcoming the chance to study a dozen frog species in a new facility at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Ready for my closeup: This male marsupial frog is part of the captive breeding program at Atlanta Botanical Garden (CNN Photo)

The 40' by 8' container, or "amphibian pod" is biosecure, so that no pathogens (any microorganism that can cause disease) go in or out of the facility. The pod is also "green." Water coming out of it is treated and re-used at the Garden.

"The temperature is similar to Panama where all the frogs came from, 80 degrees during the day and 62 at night," said Ron Gagliardo, amphibian conservation coordinator at the Garden.

Why frogs at a botanical garden?

In the early '90s, Gagliardo set up a poison dart frog exhibit at the Garden.

"The visitors went crazy. It was a great way to hook visitors to conservation issues," said Gagliardo.

And as conservation issues go, no animals could use attention more than amphibians.

Amphibians– you remember from elementary school, they live on land, breed in water– include frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians. (Caecilians are burrowing, wormlike creatures.) And about a third of the 6,000 species are declining or endangered.The World Conservation Union's Global Amphibian Assessment estimates since 1980 at least 122 species have already become extinct.

The pod concept began at a research center in Melbourne, Australia. The scientists in Atlanta are working to streamline and standardize the tanks, lighting and water systems so that the pods can cheaply be operated in developing countries in Central and South America where they are needed for captive breeding programs.

But frogs and salamanders don't have the same prestige as pandas and polar bears... the "charismatic megafauna" that help conservation groups raise money. They also tend to be studied less.

"We have less of a knowledge base about amphibians," said Dante Fenolio, amphibian conservation scientist at the Garden.

Right now one of the biggest threats to amphibians is a deadly fungal disease known as Chytridiomycosis, or chytrid (pronounced kit-rid). Habitat loss, pollution, invasive species and climate change are other dangers they face.

"This is a catastrophic problem," said Fenolio. "We know very little about environmental toxicology," he said.

Chytrid is now found on every continent except Antarctica, (where there are no amphibians).

The fungus kills by interfering with an animal's ability to move water and air through its skin. As the fungus spreads through Central America, several rare frog species (the marsupial frog, lemur leaf frog, and glass frog) are now in a breeding program at the Garden, a joint project with Zoo Atlanta.

Jenny Cruse-Sanders, a plant evolutionary biologist who is director of research and conservation at the Garden, said having frogs on display is a great way to educate the public.

"People are always asking, 'What can I do?'" said Cruse-Sanders. "We want to keep people engaged and informed, to keep up a sense of hope and action," she said.

A coalition of science and conservation groups has declared 2008 "The Year of the Frog." You can find out more at Amphibian Ark, whose mantra is, "Keeping threatened amphibian species afloat."

Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology Producer

Filed under: Animals • environment

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Wisdom   August 22nd, 2008 12:09 pm ET

It's a shame to see so many species of frog croak! pardon the pun

Good luck in your work.

Franko   August 22nd, 2008 12:31 pm ET

Last year, they croaked a lot. This year, late warm, fewer mosquitoes. Poor frogs, starved, died a lot. More research dollars, to study how frog to human similarity can be used to reduce human popuplation, below unsustainable levels.

Climate research is the key, to unleash a deadly fungus on humanity.
Save the froggie, don't swat, feed the mosquitoes, promote sustainability.

S Callahan   August 22nd, 2008 12:33 pm ET

This sounds like a great thing to do. As a child I remember some fun days were spent catching tadpoles and watching them grow over time. I've noticed over the last few years many frogs seem to be suffering deformities that may be consequence of either nature or enviorment. I would think they are a gage to things going wrong in the nautal world.

Franko   August 22nd, 2008 3:15 pm ET

"suffering deformities that may be consequence of either nature or enviorment."

Just trying possible combinations, in the survival combination lock.
No mutations, the only combination changed, croaked are froggies.

S Callahan   August 22nd, 2008 5:18 pm ET

lol that was a good one Franko! 🙂

Rao   August 22nd, 2008 11:50 pm ET

Growing up in rural India in a farming community, I had the previlege of living with many species of animals, birds, plants and others in the wild and rural areas. After all these years, I don't find most of these any more. They are almost extint now. The main reason is the deforestration, over use of pesticides in the agriculture and so on. For example we used to have keep two headed snakes, one head on each side, in the rice storage areas to eat the rats. They were completely extinct now. There were King cobras, Vipers, and other varieties of Snakes, Rabbits, Deer, Fox, Wolves, Crabs, Varities of fresh water fish including Eels and so on. There were beutiful birds of all colors and sizes. There were many herbal plants, large trees which were hundreds of years old and so on. I guess this is common in most of the countries. Unless we do some thing about this, try and identify root cause of all these, educate general population, put pressure on political leaders and administration to do some thing about it, many things will become extint and the only things that we will see is mutated animals and people with all kinds of diseases and different forms of cancer.

blobzilla   August 23rd, 2008 1:28 am ET

I have a firm belief in mother nature,,any population from bacteria to mammals that over populates is always taken care of by nature. The usual method is stavation and disease. I place my bets on a disease, globally transmitted with some lag time for spreading, we cannot continue to popluate at a geometric rate. When i was 10 we had 2 billion souls,,now im 50 we have over 6 billion, this rate of growth cannot be maintained. Overcrowding generated the conditions for many species control. With our drugs and medicine can we defy this? Are we immune to natural forces?

Franko   August 23rd, 2008 10:17 am ET

Frogs mutate or die by the Froggie Fungi. Some species become Fungi extincted
Similar to Aids resistant Humans. They cannot get Aids, no matter, sex partner.

New Froggie species emerge, then new Fungi, hence the Froggie variety.
Applied to French cousine, not only Escargot, but Vive la difference.

Frocky   August 25th, 2008 1:15 pm ET

Well, either we will die, or, we will realize we have to find another place to go......One way or the other, Mother Nature's immune system is beginning to fight us off!

Franko   August 25th, 2008 2:46 pm ET

Poison dart frogs would make colorful Sushit.
Which after dinner wine is an effective antidote ?

The first U.S. dingy for Amphibian Ark at Atlanta Botanical Garden « Frog Matters   September 12th, 2008 10:55 pm ET

[...] world, each container able to protect three species from chytrid and other environmental threats. Maybe we should call these the dingies of Amphibian Ark... Here's the story. Excerpt from [...]

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