Landmark Study Reveals Low National Rate Of Frog Abnormalities On Wildlife Refuges

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An unprecedented 10-year-study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows encouraging results for frogs and toads on national wildlife refuges. The study, published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE, finds that on average, less than two percent of frogs and toads sampled on 152 refuges had physical abnormalities involving the skeleton and eyes – a lower rate than many experts feared based on earlier reports.  This indicates that the severe malformations such as missing or extra limbs repeatedly reported in the media during the mid-1990s were actually very rare on national wildlife refuges.

“Frogs and toads are strong indicators of wetland and environmental quality. What affects them affects a broad range of other species,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “This research significantly advances our understanding of amphibian abnormalities while amassing one of the world’s largest datasets on the issue.”

The study also highlights areas of the country with more abnormal frogs than expected. These areas, termed “hotspot clusters”, warrant further research to determine their causes.

Concern about amphibian abnormalities became widespread in 1995 when middle school students discovered frogs with misshapen, extra or missing limbs at a Minnesota wetland. Since then, scientists have continued to report frogs and toads with severe abnormalities and documented global amphibian population declines, disease outbreaks and an increased rate of species extinctions.

In 2000, Congress asked agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the Service and U.S. Geological Survey, to address growing concerns about the health of amphibians in the United States. In response, the Service launched a 10-year study, the largest ever of its kind, to determine the distribution and severity of amphibian abnormalities within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The research effort – called the National Abnormal Amphibian Program – sampled more than 68,000 frogs on 152 refuges, and in the process, compiled one of the world’s largest databases on amphibian abnormalities.

On average, only two percent of the frogs and toads were classified as having skeletal or eye abnormalities, the types of abnormalities most commonly studied. The expected background range of zero to two percent skeletal/eye abnormalities was found at many refuges. Extra limbs were exceedingly rare:  just 0.025 percent of all frogs sampled.

However, consistent with other, prior studies, the Service’s study detected areas where sites with higher rates of abnormalities tend to cluster together geographically. Within these regional hotspot clusters, which were found in the Mississippi River Valley (northeast Missouri, Arkansas and northern Louisiana), in the Central Valley of California, and in south-central and eastern Alaska, abnormality frequency often exceeded the national average of two percent, affecting up to 40 percent of emerging amphibians in some individual samples.

Analysis of the data showed that the location where the amphibians were collected was a better predictor of whether or not they would be abnormal than was their species or the year they were sampled. There was virtually no evidence that some species were more likely to be abnormal than others or that more abnormal frogs were found in some years than in others.  

Although this study was not designed to investigate the reasons behind amphibian abnormalities, the results strongly implicate localized causes. This is consistent with other research, some of which has identified contamination, predators, parasites or the interaction of these as potential factors.

The complete dataset from the study is being made available online at the Dryad Digital Repository (http://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.dc25r ) to facilitate future research to aid in the conservation of amphibians and their habitats. To view the journal article, visit http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0077467.

For more information on this study visit www.fws.gov/contaminants/Issues/Amphibians.cfm.


Land Trust For Tennessee And Mountain Goat Trail Alliance Host Sneak-Peek Hike

The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance are co-hosting  a summer hike to give locals a sneak peek of a soon-to-be protected property that adds 20 miles to the Mountain Goat Trail (MGT) project.  The hike will also celebrate the enhancement of local outdoor recreation, the conservation of our natural wonders and the way of life on the ... (click for more)

Crabtree Farms Offers Fall Gardening Workshop

In response to a growing interest in fall backyard gardening, local non-profit, Crabtree Farms is offering educational opportunities and affordable, healthy plant starts to help Chattanoogans grow their own food this fall.   “While most people are excited to plant their gardens in spring or summer, there is a growing number of people who realize that they can enjoy ... (click for more)

DA Looking Into Issue Of County Commission Candidate's Campaign Sending Filled-Out Requests For Absentee Ballot To Elderly Voters

The District Attorney's Office has been provided with documents that a County Commission candidate's campaign sent filled-out requests for absentee ballots to elderly voters. Kerry Steelman, election administrator, said there have been four instances in which such requests came from the Elect John Brooks campaign. He said state law says in Section 2-6-202:  (3) A person ... (click for more)

Graham Says County School-City Lawsuit Settlement "Stinks," But County Commission Approves It

The County Commission on Wednesday approved a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Hamilton County Schools against the city of Chattanooga, though several commissioners said they were not happy with the deal and Commissioner Joe Graham said it "stinks." Commissioner Graham was the lone no vote. He was joined by Commissioner Tim Boyd in a failed effort to defer it a week. ... (click for more)

The Truth From Weston’s Sister - And Response (3)

I try not to read the negative articles and opinions about my older brother. Growing up around politics, I learned a long time ago that thick skin is not only necessary, it’s paramount. But this time, the lies and the rumors and the inaccurate information has gone too far. It’s too ridiculous for me to ignore. So let’s clear a few things up: Weston and I do not “come ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Say It Ain't So, Larry Joe!

Larry Joe Wheelon, the tainted horse trainer who was charged with 18 counts of aggravated animal cruelty when his barn was raided in April of 2013 and some animals were sored so badly that they could barely walk, finally went to a court hearing in Blount County on Wednesday and his steps toward Judge Tammy Harrington’s bench were decidedly heavy. My goodness, yours would have been ... (click for more)