Sudden frog deaths, signs of an epidemic?

August 12, 2008 9:47:26 PM PDT
Every day, it seems we report more scientific findings about the effects of climate change.

There have been stories about grapes, salmon, rain, temperatures and typically, we report them as individual incidents. However, scientific researchers see things differently, and they're worried about the implications

On Tuesday, Dr. Vance Vredenburg at San Francisco State reported a chilling fact -- that now frogs are dying, world-wide, in unprecedented numbers.

"The classic death by a thousand cuts," says Vredenburg.

On Monday, there was similar news about tropical coral reefs. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has moved to the oceans, raised their acidity, and begun dissolving them.

"The skeletons that support those corals are dissolving faster than they can grow," says Dr. Terry Gosliner, Ph.D., California Academy of Sciences.

But, if you talk to scientists, there is more going on here than coral or amphibians. We hear stories like this in the news every day, but scientists worry about the cumulative effect.

"The take-home message is that we are entering the sixth massive extinction of life on Earth," says Vredenburg.

As more PhD's publish more research, climate and carbon affects appear to be accelerating. From salmon in the Delta, to grapes in the Napa Valley, to Arctic Sea ice disappearing.

At the California Academy of Sciences, Dr. Peter Roornarime just published a study predicting Pacific shellfish migrating to the Atlantic.

Why should we care?

"If nature changes, then things change for us. Our economy, our society is dependent on nature and it's actually closely connected," says Peter Roopnarime, Ph.D from the California Academy of Sciences.

This brings us back to the dying amphibians.

"I think it is a danger signal like none we have seen before," says Vredenburg.

They're falling to unnatural predators, loss of habitat and more significantly, to a strange new fungus. What's chilling is that humans have biological weaknesses, as well.

"And the underlying ecology that leads to epidemics in frogs is no different thatn the underlying epidemics that lead to the black plague in humans, or sars, or aids or all these things. There are many similarities between these," says Vredenburg.

Scientists believe that the more stress we see in the biosphere, the more likely it is to move up.

"If amphibians, these long term survivors, are dropping out of existence, humans could be next."

And when a PhD says something like that, he isn't trying to scare us. He's just trying to warn us.


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