Amphibians confirmed as bellwethers

Oct. 29, 2008 at 1:12 PM
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Oct. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. biologists say they've verified the predictive powers of amphibians, whose moist permeable skins make them susceptible to slight environmental changes.

Scientists have long suspected amphibians are good bellwethers for impending alterations in biodiversity during rapid climate change. The new University of California-Santa Barbara global study of species turnover among amphibians and birds has confirmed that belief.

"Our study supports the role of amphibians as 'canaries in the coal mine,' " said Lauren Buckley, a postdoctoral fellow at the university's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. "Amphibians are likely to be the first to respond to environmental changes and their responses can forecast how other species will respond."

Buckley and University of California-San Diego Associate Professor Walter Jetz, co-author of the study, found that if the environment changes rapidly as one travels from one location to another, the amphibian and bird communities also change rapidly. However, amphibians change more quickly than birds.

The scientists said that finding confirms amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, and that sensitivity is particularly acute given their narrow distributions.

The study appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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