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      Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians

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      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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          Abstract

          Many scientists argue that we are either entering or in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction. Intense human pressure, both direct and indirect, is having profound effects on natural environments. The amphibians--frogs, salamanders, and caecilians--may be the only major group currently at risk globally. A detailed worldwide assessment and subsequent updates show that one-third or more of the 6,300 species are threatened with extinction. This trend is likely to accelerate because most amphibians occur in the tropics and have small geographic ranges that make them susceptible to extinction. The increasing pressure from habitat destruction and climate change is likely to have major impacts on narrowly adapted and distributed species. We show that salamanders on tropical mountains are particularly at risk. A new and significant threat to amphibians is a virulent, emerging infectious disease, chytridiomycosis, which appears to be globally distributed, and its effects may be exacerbated by global warming. This disease, which is caused by a fungal pathogen and implicated in serious declines and extinctions of >200 species of amphibians, poses the greatest threat to biodiversity of any known disease. Our data for frogs in the Sierra Nevada of California show that the fungus is having a devastating impact on native species, already weakened by the effects of pollution and introduced predators. A general message from amphibians is that we may have little time to stave off a potential mass extinction.

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          Most cited references36

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          Emerging infectious disease and the loss of biodiversity in a Neotropical amphibian community.

          Pathogens rarely cause extinctions of host species, and there are few examples of a pathogen changing species richness and diversity of an ecological community by causing local extinctions across a wide range of species. We report the link between the rapid appearance of a pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in an amphibian community at El Copé, Panama, and subsequent mass mortality and loss of amphibian biodiversity across eight families of frogs and salamanders. We describe an outbreak of chytridiomycosis in Panama and argue that this infectious disease has played an important role in amphibian population declines. The high virulence and large number of potential hosts of this emerging infectious disease threaten global amphibian diversity.
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            Status and trends of amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide.

            The first global assessment of amphibians provides new context for the well-publicized phenomenon of amphibian declines. Amphibians are more threatened and are declining more rapidly than either birds or mammals. Although many declines are due to habitat loss and overutilization, other, unidentified processes threaten 48% of rapidly declining species and are driving species most quickly to extinction. Declines are nonrandom in terms of species' ecological preferences, geographic ranges, and taxonomic associations and are most prevalent among Neotropical montane, stream-associated species. The lack of conservation remedies for these poorly understood declines means that hundreds of amphibian species now face extinction.
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              Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses.

              Atrazine is the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. and probably the world. It can be present at several parts per million in agricultural runoff and can reach 40 parts per billion (ppb) in precipitation. We examined the effects of atrazine on sexual development in African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Larvae were exposed to atrazine (0.01-200 ppb) by immersion throughout larval development, and we examined gonadal histology and laryngeal size at metamorphosis. Atrazine (> or =0.1 ppb) induced hermaphroditism and demasculinized the larynges of exposed males (> or =1.0 ppb). In addition, we examined plasma testosterone levels in sexually mature males. Male X. laevis suffered a 10-fold decrease in testosterone levels when exposed to 25 ppb atrazine. We hypothesize that atrazine induces aromatase and promotes the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This disruption in steroidogenesis likely explains the demasculinization of the male larynx and the production of hermaphrodites. The effective levels reported in the current study are realistic exposures that suggest that other amphibian species exposed to atrazine in the wild could be at risk of impaired sexual development. This widespread compound and other environmental endocrine disruptors may be a factor in global amphibian declines.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                August 14 2008
                August 12 2008
                August 11 2008
                August 12 2008
                : 105
                : Supplement 1
                : 11466-11473
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.0801921105
                2556420
                18695221
                d1716ab9-584e-446d-a029-47d83342eab7
                © 2008
                History

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