Virginia Tech biological sciences postdoctoral researcher Traci DuBose wants to ensure no frogs or toads land below conservationists’ radar.
For the last two years, DuBose has been measuring the intrinsic sensitivity of species to climate change — a key determinant of extinction vulnerability — in 90 species of anurans, commonly known as frogs and toads. By accessing publicly available data, DuBose and her team evaluated and compared more than 140,000 observations of anurans native to the contiguous United States, making it the first study of this size and scope.
“The United States is home to over 100 species of frogs and toads,” said DuBose, a researcher in the Mims Lab at Virginia Tech led by Meryl Mims, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science. “Frog and toad species are great study animals because they live in so many different areas like deserts, marshes, and forests and are very charismatic.”
But how does one measure rarity?That’s where the benefit of the 140,000 observations come into play. These occurrences hold the key to three important items: what type of animal, as well as when and where the animal was spotted.
Mims said she is optimistic about the scope of DuBose’s study and looks forward to building upon its momentum through the continued support from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Equally, DuBose is excited to bring conservation partners into the fold, by using apps to document and share point occurrences, especially if it’s a frog or a toad. “In this scenario, everyone wins,” said DuBose. “Community scientists who added points to iNaturalist, for instance, can know their data is helping inform species conservation.”
In 2019, the Mims Lab at Virginia Tech was awarded additional funding from the U.S. Geological Survey. In this capacity, the lab works closely with the organization’s scientists to understand species vulnerability to climate change, with regular meetings and collaborations on projects, publications, and science communication products.
The research team capitalized on the two billion occurrence records of Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) data, which is free and provides open access to biodiversity data that details when and where a species is observed. It serves as an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world’s governments.
“GBIF was a game changer for us as it allowed us to include and compare many species directly with one another in ways not currently captured by most conservation status designation approaches,” said DuBose.
Amphibians worldwide are affected by climate change and potentially one of the most threatened. DuBose and her team found that some species of amphibians are more likely to be sensitive to climate change because they are not protected by state or federal regulations. The team determined that approximately 11?percent of anuran species are sensitive to climate change, but are not currently listed as at-risk either at the state, federal, or international levels.
For example, the cliff chirping frog and Brimley’s chorus frog are geographically rare and inhabit areas that will likely be threatened by shifting climate, such as deserts and coasts, respectively.
The team also identified eight additional anuran species that are overlooked at the international and/or federal levels.