The EDGE amphibian project launches today

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A major global conservation effort, aiming to bring to better attention the chronic plight of the world's amphibian species, was launched at the start of this year. You might have heard of it: the Year of the Frog movement. And, today, a second project aimed at conserving the world's endangered amphibians launches: the EDGE amphibian project, a website designed by the Zoological Society of London to draw attention to amphibian species that are not just globally endangered, but are also evolutionarily distinct...

As you might have guessed, 'EDGE' stands for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered. EDGE species have few (or no) close living relatives and are highly distinct in terms of their biology, habits or behaviour. In a talk abstract from March 2007, Jonathan Baillie - head of the ZSL's Indicators and Assessments Unit - noted that 'many of the world's most evolutionarily distinct species are on the edge of extinction, yet they receive little or no conservation attention'. EDGE species are in cases the last surviving members of groups that have had long evolutionary histories, yet they 'are unfamiliar to both conservationists and the public, and are frequently overlooked by current conservation initiatives', said Baillie. The loss of EDGE species does not just mean, then, the loss of some of the most interesting species, it also means that we are in danger of losing a disproportionate amount of the planet's evolutionary history (e.g., Heard & Mooers 2000, Purvis et al. 2000, von Euler 2001). The possibility exists that such losses might greatly reduce the potential for future evolution. Knowledge of a group's phylogenetic and geological history is therefore an essential tool in setting conservation priorities [purple frog above is Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis; one of many on the EDGE list].

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While some EDGE species - like Giant pandas and Black rhinos - are well studied and relatively familiar, a great many are highly obscure and poorly known. So the plan over the last couple of months - as if you couldn't guess - has been to build a framework of reference articles on Tet Zoo that essentially introduce the main amphibian lineages and their key traits. With the exception of one article left to do on natatanuran neobatrachians, I managed to get through all anurans (the anuran series has so far consisted of part I, part II, part III, part IV, part V, part VI, and part VII), and of course just recently we did caecilians (part II here) and caudates (part II here) [salamander in adjacent image is the Luristan newt Neurergus kaiseri, an Iranian salamandrid named in 1952; it's also on the EDGE list].

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With this framework (virtually) in place, the stage is set for more detailed examinations of specific species and genera, focusing of course on the EDGE amphibian species. Given that I have a particular liking of obscure species, I had to take this on, and indeed you might argue that I had a responsibility to do so, given that virtually nothing non-technical has been written about many of the species concerned. We're talking about such awesome creatures as the giant salamanders, Australian frogs that have lost their eardrums and communicate by waving their limbs around, miniature Mexican plethodontids, spiny salamanders, olms, the singularly named Togo slippery frog Conraua derooi and Baw Baw frog Philoria frosti... and many others. As of today, lots of information on these species - much of it widely available for the first time - is available at the EDGE amphibian site, and I'm going to be blogging about some of these species over the following weeks and months. You have been warned! Many thanks to EDGE's Helen Meredith, the EDGE amphibians co-ordinator, for her support on all of this and for getting me involved. A short article by me, essentially similar to this one, can be found here on the EDGE site: bizarrely, I'm not holding an amphibian, but the skull of Dave Hone and Mike Benton's new rhynchosaur Fodonyx, recently published in Palaeontology. More on that later [white olms Proteus anguinus below; also on the EDGE list].

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And for more information here's Helen Meredith talking about EDGE amphibians...

PS - happy second birthday Tet Zoo! More on that later in the week.
PPS - the EDGE amphibians site is currently having a few teething problems. These will be resolved soon.

Refs - -

Heard, S. B. & Mooers, A. Ø. 2000. Phylogenetically patterned speciation rates and extinction risks change the loss of evolutionary history during extinctions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 267, 613-620.

Purvis, A., Agapow, P.-M., Gittleman, J. L. & Mace, G. M. 2000. Non-random extinction and the loss of evolutionary history. Science 288, 328-330.

von Euler, F. 2001. Selective extinction and rapid loss of evolutionary history in the bird fauna. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 268, 127-130.

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How the heck did you get the skull of Dave Hone out, and where are you hiding it? I only see the Fodonyx!

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink


By Dave Hone (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink

It might seem a good idea only when you completely miss how poor is our knowledge of amphibians.

I guess that taxonomic distinctiveness is not very credible when still occur discoveries like 200 unknown frog species in Sri lanka about two years ago? And how to estimate distictiveness if phylogenetic trees on e.g. caecilians can be named "incomplete" to "superficial and unreliable"?

This EDGE project seems to suffer from two big and common mistakes in biology. First, assuming that data are complete when they are poor. Second, producing projects and research on paper without regard to conservation action in the field.

But Olm photo is cool, true.

Hi everyone.

This EDGE project seems to suffer from two big and common mistakes in biology. First, assuming that data are complete when they are poor. Second, producing projects and research on paper without regard to conservation action in the field.

With respect Jerzy, your criticisms are inaccurate. No-one is saying that knowledge is complete on the species concerned (when conservation priorities are decided, it's because we've come to an appropriate conclusion based on the data we have: many species that very probably warrant conservation efforts are not getting any because data is simply insufficient); and a major part of the EDGE project has been field research, so it's far from true that this is a paper-only exercise.

I would be cautious in making comments like yours: they create the impression that lack of knowledge, rather than genuine vulnerability to extinction, is the problem and hence imply that we are ok if we sit back and do nothing. This is of course what politicians and some other people would like to hear. But look at the data. I think it is abundantly clear - and well supportable, and testable, and verifiable - that most or all of the so-called critically endangered species really are critically endangered and will be lost unless efforts are made. You cannot go to Costa Rica or Queensland or wherever and suddenly discover that Golden toads, harlequin toads or gastric-brooding frogs are actually ok and have simply been overlooked: so far as we can tell, they really are - effectively or actually - extinct.

Darren, you misunderstood me.

I agree that amphibians should be conserved and distinctive ones might have priority. But they do it wrong way. I seen similar project which failed this way.

I was criticising that their taxonomic conclusions go too far, into "taxonomic distinctiveness index". This, among others, creates wrong impression that taxonomic knowledge is more complete and firm than in reality. Among others, this might harm conservation, because project is written in a way that future discoveries will undermine its credibility.

I was also criticising that they don't pay attention to the practical possibilities of action. Reason of no conservation is often that conservation cannot be practically done - you have e.g. political unrest, unsolvable social issues, no organizational capacity. Many amphibians are very difficult to protect, because they need protecting whole watersheds in areas of poor administration. This will not go away with paying attention to Olms.

Well, I hope for the best. That is, EDGE produces much added value to existing conservation of others.

(Random thought)
Maybe, one should list animals not just endangered and taxonomically unique, but also where conservation can be practically done? Is there a point in producing conservation plan for animal which e.g. lives in war-torn country where no plan can be put into life?

What the public needs is more pictures, films and visuals about such fantastic and sad creatures, and the EDGE project is a welcome step along this direction. I think modern pop culture has already created something of a "creature craze" in public, we only have to show them that reality is, in fact, more attractive than cartoon characters.

a friend of mine has a Neurergus kaiseri and is not able to keep it properly.since this specie is an endangereded one, can anybody help retaining it?is there any organisation tending to have it? our Neurergus kaiseri is in Iran.can anybody help saving it? contact me at