Blaustein discusses amphibian decline
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 03:02
Monday night, the Old World Deli hosted Dr. Andrew Blaustein to speak about the murky future of amphibians. Blaustein, a professor in the department of zoology and the director of the environmental sciences graduate program at Oregon State University, spoke to a room full of people who came to hear about the plight of amphibians.
As part of a biodiversity crisis, Blaustein said “rates of extinction are going straight up, and they’re unprecedented.” He added that amphibians, such as toads, frogs, salamanders and caecilians, are doing a little worse than birds and mammals.
According to Blaustein, one-third of amphibians, or about 2000 species, are currently threatened — with 122 extinctions since 1980.
“We are truly experiencing a silent spring where we don’t hear this,” Blaustein said, referring to the harmony of croaking played on his slide.
Blaustein explained that amphibians are sensitive for a number of reasons. Their eggs are laid in the open with no protective shell to shield them. They have no skin or hair, leading to increased contact with contaminants. The complex life cycle that characterizes amphibians — being both aquatic and terrestrial at different points in their lives – means they can encounter problems in both systems.
Blaustein emphasized that amphibian decline is a complex issue and discussed many causes, including parasites, pathogens, habitat destruction, climate change, overharvesting, introduction of non-native species and UV radiation due to ozone depletion.
“He’ll sit out there all day,” Blaustein said of a frog featured in his slide show, which was bobbing at the surface of an algae-coated pond. That same frog had retina damage from his sun-bathing habits, according to Blaustein.
Blaustein pointed out mutated frogs with multiple legs can be “mostly explained by a trematode parasite known as a fluke.”
The parasite has three main hosts: snails, birds and tadpoles that mature into frogs.
Blaustein devoted time to talk about amphibian importance, including medicinal significance and environmental health. Frog skin can be used as a treatment for burns and as a source for medicine.
As species of amphibians go extinct, “We may be losing some of our cures for human diseases,” he said.
The second segment of Blaustein’s presentation focused on media and science. One of Blaustein’s slides read “conveying science to the press is not science – it’s an art.”
To prove his point, Blaustein showed the audience a scientific research paper, the title of which was full of terminology that, when reduced to non-scientific language, meant mosquitos breed in water.
One audience member asked Blaustein if he had anything positive to say about the situation amphibians are confronting.
Blaustein emphasized the dismal circumstances amphibian populations face, but recommended the website savethefrogs.com for audience members interested in helping out.
“If you go to savethefrogs.com, you will be amazed,” Blaustein said.
Kate Ottersten, a recent Corvallis resident from New York, attended the Science Pub Monday evening.
“I love that they’ve got these opportunities to come and learn,” Ottersten said.
Ottersten explained that small animals like amphibians are important and should not be ignored.
Nick Houtman, editor of Terra Magazine, OSU’s research magazine, gave opening remarks preceding Blaustein’s presentation and listed some of Blaustein’s involvement in the scientific community. Blaustein is a member of the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program and part of the board of directors at the Amphibian Conservation Alliance.
Science Pub is sponsored by the Downtown Corvallis Association, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and Terra Magazine.
McKinley Smith, news reporter