Durrell contributing with the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan

by Jeff Dawson and Bela Barata - February 26, 2021

The global amphibian crisis: a call for action

The global amphibian declines crisis was first voiced in 1989 during the First World Congress of Herpetology. Since then, multiple causes of amphibian declines have been identified. The growing evidence of declines precipitated an upsurge of interest. As a result, this triggered a range of initiatives aiming to address the global crisis.

The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) created the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force in 2001. Following the Task Force, the Global Amphibian Assessment evaluated all known species based on the IUCN Red List Criteria. They completed the initial assessment in 2004 and provided a subsequent Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP) as a framework for action.

The latest IUCN Amphibian Assessment in 2008 showed alarming numbers. They observed a decline in 42% of amphibians. Additionally, more than 3o% of species are threatened with extinction. There are more amphibians at risk than mammals and birds. Moreover, current amphibian extinctions may be happening at over 200 times the expected background rate of amphibian loss.

What is the ACAP

Species Action Plan assesses the conservation status of species and their habitats, outlining conservation priorities for specific targets. The IUCN SSC Specialist Groups compiles the Action Plans. As such, they are important resource for species-related conservation with information available to natural resource managers, conservationists and decision makers around the world.

The ACAP was first published in 2007 by the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) and updated as an online resource in 2015. The plan identifies global challenges and priorities for various themes relevant to amphibian conservation. It also guides conservation and funding organisations by identifying priorities for research and action. The ACAP is updated by the ASG’s Thematic Working Groups, each of which develops and curates a chapter for its respective theme.

Durrell’s contribution to the ACAP

One of Durrell’s SAFE strategy aims is to facilitate a number of ASG’s working groups. There are 12 Thematic Working Groups comprising ASG members with interest and expertise on specific topics. Working Groups also act as the go-to ASG authority for their particular themes. Durrell is currently participating on four working groups and reviewing their respective chapters in the ACAP. Consequently, our amphibian experts contribute with Survey and Monitoring, Reintroductions and Translocations, Conservation Planning, and Habitat Protection.

Survey and Monitoring

The Survey and Monitoring chapter is reviewing cutting edge survey techniques that can take amphibian monitoring further. As a result, new techniques aim to identify early signs of amphibian declines through survey and monitoring. This crucial step will help conserving threatened population and communities. Durrell’s Field Programmes Officer Bela Barata is a core member of this working group and is contributing with this chapter. With a PhD in Biodiversity Management, Bela expertise will help the group move forward with her skills and knowledge on novel sampling methods and recent statistical advances for long-term population monitoring.

Reintroductions and Translocations

This chapter is reviewing the evidence and identifying key knowledge gaps to help improve reintroductions and translocations in the future. Compared to other taxonomic groups, amphibian reintroductions are fewer in number. However, Durrell has plenty of expertise in this area. We have been involved in three amphibian reintroductions – mountain chicken, agile frog and Mallorcan midwife toad. Durrell’s Field Programmes Manager Jeff Dawson is a core member of this working group.

Conservation Planning

A new chapter for the ACAP; the Conservation Planning working group will review advancements in and current state of play in this area for amphibians. Aims include highlighting key challenges, progress in knowledge, and, in particular, evidence needed to inform successful conservation planning action. Jeff is again a core member of this team. He brings knowledge from Durrell’s involvement in the Mountain Chicken Long Term Recovery Strategy 2014-2034 and New Sahonagasy Action Plan 2016-2020.

Habitat Protection

This chapter reviews actions that protect key amphibian habitats and identifies gaps in policy and research. This is particularly important for amphibians as they are often highly sensitive to environmental changes caused by habitat degradation and have poor dispersal abilities. Jeff is a contributing member to this working group.

Durrell’s collaboration with ASG is closely aligned with the SAFE strategy aims and is a key component in supporting amphibian conservation efforts on the ground. ASG will conclude the ACAP revision this year. They will publish results as an IUCN occasional paper and also translate it into a document for practitioners. This work will help the conservation community to better understand amphibian declines and extinctions in a global context as well as a local one.