An MSU-led study featured on the cover of this week’s Science magazine should sound alarm bells regarding the “biodiversity crisis” or the loss of wildlife around the world. Photo by Kevin Enge
A Michigan State University– and University of Maryland-led study featured on the cover of this week’s Science magazine should sound alarm bells regarding the “biodiversity crisis” or the loss of wildlife around the world.
The loss of any species is devastating. However, the decline or extinction of one species can trigger an avalanche within an ecosystem, wiping out many species in the process. When biodiversity losses cause cascading effects within a region, they can eliminate many data-deficient species – animals that have eluded scientific study or haven’t been researched enough to understand how best to conserve them.
“Some species that are rare or hard to detect may be declining so quickly that we might not ever know that we’re losing them,” said Elise Zipkin, MSU integrative biologist and the study’s lead author. “In fact, this study is less about snakes and more about the general loss of biodiversity and its consequences.”
The snakes in question reside in a protected area near El Copé, Panama. The new study documents how the snake community plummeted after an invasive fungal pathogen wiped out most of the area’s frogs, a primary food source. Thanks to the University of Maryland’s long-term study tracking amphibians and reptiles, the team had seven years of data on the snake community before the loss of frogs and six years of data afterwards.
Yet even with that extensive dataset, many species were detected so infrequently that traditional analysis methods were impossible. To say that these snakes are highly elusive or rare would be an understatement. Of the 36 snake species observed during the study, 12 were detected only once and five species were detected twice.
“We need to reframe the question and accept that with data-deficient species, we won’t often be able to assess population changes with high levels of certainty,” Zipkin said. “Instead, we need to look at the probability that this snake community is worse off now than it used to be.”
Using this approach, the team, which included former MSU integrative biologists Grace DiRenzo and Sam Rossman, built statistical models focused on estimating the probability that snake diversity metrics changed after the loss of amphibians, rather than trying to estimate the absolute number of species in the area, which is inherently difficult because snakes are so rare.
“We estimated an 85% probability that there are fewer snake species than there were before the amphibians declined,” Zipkin said. “We also estimated high probabilities that the occurrence rates and body conditions of many of the individual snake species were lower after the loss of amphibians, despite no other systematic changes to the environment.”
When animals die off en masse, such as what is happening with amphibians worldwide, researchers are dealing mainly with that discovery and are focused on determining the causes. But what happens to everything else that relies on those animals? Scientists don’t often have accurate counts and observations of the other species in those ecosystems, leaving them guessing to the consequences of these changes. The challenge is exacerbated, of course, when it involves rare and data-deficient species.
“Because there will never be a ton of data, we can’t pinpoint exactly why some snake species declined while others seemed to do okay or even prospered after the catastrophic loss of amphibians.” Zipkin said. “But this phenomenon, in which a disturbance event indirectly produces a large number of ‘losers’ but also a few ‘winners,’ is increasingly common and leads to worldwide biotic homogenization, or the process of formally dissimilar ecosystems gradually becoming more similar.”
The inability to put their finger on the exact cause, however, isn’t the worst news to come from their results. The truly bad news is that the level of devastation portends to much greater worldwide loss than the scientific community has been estimating.
“The huge die-off of frogs is an even bigger problem than we thought,” said Doug Levey, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology. “Frogs’ disappearance has had cascading effects in tropical food chains. This study reveals the importance of basic, long-term data. When these scientists started counting snakes in a rainforest, they had no idea what they’d eventually discover.”
Zipkin agrees that long-term data is important to help stakeholders ascertain the extent of the issue.
“We have this unique dataset and we have found a clever way to estimate declines in rare species,” she said. “It’s sad, however, that the biodiversity crisis is probably worse than we thought because there are so many data-deficient species that we’ll never be able to assess.”
On a positive note, the scientists believe that improved forecasts and modeling could lead to bolstering conservation efforts. Making data-driven, proactive changes can prevent massive die offs and curb biodiversity loss.
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Fresh funds for 78 biodiversity plans across Ireland
In January, the Government published its National Biodiversity Action Plan 2023-2030 to tackle the deepening crisis of biodiversity loss in Ireland. This is the first plan to be published since it ...
- Boost for Wicklow’s habitats as community groups to get biodiversity funding
Several community groups in County Wicklow are to benefit from grant funding to support projects aimed at protecting endangered species and habitats.
- Church right to promote biodiversity - bishop
He was speaking to the BBC after the Church's General Synod backed measures to promote biodiversity on Church land. Bishop Usher told BBC Radio Norfolk: "If we are not getting our ...
- Wanted: Youth tackling the triple planetary crisis
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a call for nominations for its Young Champions of the Earth award, which recognizes young people’s contributions and outstanding potential to lead ...
- Train young scientists in taxonomy to help solve the biodiversity crisis
Community scientists and Indigenous people play an important part in conservation, and trained members of local groups could bolster volunteer efforts to monitor biodiversity. Artificial ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
[google_news title=”” keyword=”biodiversity crisis” num_posts=”5″ blurb_length=”0″ show_thumb=”left”]
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- How to Attract Frogs and Toads to Your Yard—and Why You Should
Not only do pesticides kill off the insects that frogs and toads rely on, but amphibians can absorb chemicals through their skin and hopping through a treated lawn or garden can prove fatal.
- A frog in India has a mushroom sprouting out of it. Researchers have never seen anything like it
When observing a hoard of golden-backed frogs at a roadside pond in Karnataka, India, a group of naturalists noticed something odd about one of the amphibians — the animal had a tiny mushroom ...
- Frogs and Reptiles News
Feb. 14, 2024 — A new study explores the weight great fossil sites have on our understanding of evolutionary relationships between fossil groups and quantified the power these sites have on our ...
- TCU OL outlook for 2024: Frogs have reloaded after key offseason departures
The offensive line is the spark plug in any offense that creates a well-oiled machine. The Frogs lost some key names this offseason to the NFL, but have plenty of options that arrived in the ...
- Poison Frogs Have a Strange Behavior That Scientists Seek to Explain
The researchers observed colorful dyeing poison dart frogs tapping up to 500 times per minute, or more than three times as fast as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” When the frogs saw fruit ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
[google_news title=”” keyword=”frog die-off” num_posts=”5″ blurb_length=”0″ show_thumb=”left”]