Why Monitor Amphibians?

tree frog © Joy Marzolf, Mass Audubon
tree frog © Joy Marzolf, Mass Audubon

There are several compelling reasons to monitor amphibians on Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. 

  • Their dual life cycle (water and land) makes them excellent indicators of ecosystem health. 
    • They depend on clean, unpolluted water to complete their larval stages.
    • They are sensitive to changes in land use, such as developments that fragment their adult, forested habitat and degrade the wetlands in which they breed. 
  • Worldwide, amphibians numbers are declining, thus amphibians are of international conservation concern. 
    • A report in the journal Nature put the global decline of amphibians at 4-5 percent per year since about 1970. The causes of the decline are not clear, but acid rain, habitat loss, climate change, and a fungal disease are all suspected. 
    • In Massachusetts, we have little idea of the status and trends of our 21 amphibian species because they have never been routinely monitored.
  • Amphibians are sensitive to pesticides and could therefore be used to monitor any non-target impact of pesticide use, such as during mosquito control or vegetation management practices.
  • The yearly timing of vernal pool egg mass deposition by certain amphibians and the spring chorusing of frogs can reveal differences in the climatic conditions across a region. 
  • Red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), the focus of our coverboard studies of woodland salamanders, are likely playing a key role in forest processes. They are also sensitive to air quality.
  • Frogs and salamanders are very popular objects of natural history, which makes it easier to involve school children in environmental monitoring.