Mediterranean amphibians face extinction

Posted: 18 September 2006

One in four of the Mediterranean's species of amphibians - frogs, toads, newts and salamanders - are threatened with extinction: of the 106 amphibian species, 26 are listed in that category.

According to a new asseessment by the World Conservation Union (IUCN)the vast majority of these are found nowhere else in the world: 64 per cent of them are endemic to the region. One species, the painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer) is already extinct.

"This means that as our native species reach extinction, part of our natural heritage disappears forever," says Annabelle Cuttelod, Red List Coordinator at the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.

On a global level, almost one-third of the world's 5,918 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, revealed the World Conservation Union in its Global Amphibian Assessment.

Giant lizards

Snakes and lizards make up the bulk of the Mediterranean's reptiles. In Spain alone, five of the seven species of the lizard genus Iberolacerta, are threatened. Three of the four species of giant lizard from the Canary Islands (genus Gallotia) are critically endangered and one, the Gallotia auaritae, is already extinct. Terrestrial tortoises are also generally threatened with two of the five Testudo terrestrial tortoises critically endangered.

Eastern Mediterranean has a greater diversity of reptile species (lizards, snakes, turtles, tortoises, and crocodilians) due to the characteristic arid lands while parts of the rainier Western Mediterranean have a wider variety of amphibians. Of the 355 reptile species (excluding marine turtles) found in the Mediterranean, almost half of them occur only in this region and 46 of them are currently threatened with extinction.

For the new study, all the reptile and amphibian species were evaluated for their conservation status by experts according to the IUCN system. The results are presented in a report, prepared in partnership with Conservation International and with the financial support of the Mava Foundation.

Main threats

The main threats facing reptiles and amphibians are principally habitat loss or degradation (for example through water extraction). Over-harvesting, human disturbance, pollution and invasive alien species are also significant threats. Many reptiles, mainly snakes, are persecuted. Vehicle collision affects several snake and turtle species.

For amphibians, natural disasters and diseases are also significant threats. The Chytridiomycosis Fungal Disease - first recorded in Spain in 1997- has been implicated in declines of the Mediterranean populations of the midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) and the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and could become much more serious.

Thanks to a conservation project between the Conselleria de Medi Ambient in Mallorca, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at Kent University and the Barcelona Zoo, the Mallorcan midwife toad known as "Ferreret" has experienced an improvement in status. The species breeds well in captivity and reintroductions have been taking place since 1988, with several breeding populations already successfully established. Annual surveys are taking place and a reserve has been proposed to help protect the species. With such concerted conservation efforts, the future of this species may well be secured, at least for the present.

"Examples like this show that by groups working together we can make a difference and we should all be encouraged to get more involved," said Jane Smart, Head of the IUCN Species Programme.

Red List

The IUCN Mediterranean Red List of Threatened Species: Reptiles and Amphibians is aimed to help conservation planning by assessing the status and distribution of all species occurring within the region and to develop a network of regional experts to work on future updates.

The next step is to make this information available to policy makers and environmental planners in the development planning process. This will help them take the necessary actions to contribute to the IUCN initiative 'Countdown 2010', which aims to significantly reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010, as agreed under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

To read the Global Amphibian Assessment click here