BBC News

Eco-engineering hopes for amphibians' future

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

image captionAmphibians are among the most vulnerable groups of animals to changes to their habitat and climate

An international team of researchers have tabled a range of engineering ideas that could help protect amphibians from future climate change.

The animals are particularly vulnerable to changes to habitat and temperature ranges, with many species also having a very limited distribution.

The scientists plan to test their ideas to see which ones are the most suitable and cost effective.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

"One of the things that has dominated research, certainly as far as climate change is concerned, is impacts," explained Luke Shoo, from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland.

"I think we are getting to a stage where a lot of managers, and researchers are demanding some sort of solution.

"What we have tried to do here is bring together a whole load of people and pooled together thoughts on the possible options."

Dr Shoo added that the study had identified a range of potential useful management interventions.

"But so far many of these are poorly tested, and they might be expensive or only work in small areas or under specific situations," he told BBC News.

Logging on

One of the possible solutions was to create "micro-habitat shelters". For example, this could included forestry operators leaving a pile of dead wood, rather than clearing an entire area, so it offered protection to amphibians from drying out and temperature stress.

image captionRecent surveys show that about one third of amphibian species are staring extinction in the face

"You end up with strong populations," Dr Shoo explained.

He added that there was a precedent for this kind of intervention in conservation. For example, in order to encourage healthy reptile populations, scientists have gone into overgrown areas and reduced the canopy to allow more of the warmth from the Sun to reach the ground.

"Essentially, we will be doing this in reserve," he suggested. "We will be sheltering and reducing exposure in order to protect amphibians."

Dr Shoo said that amphibians had a tough upbringing; "They have to deal with an aquatic life-stage, and also have a terrestrial adult stage.

"So you need an environment where you can get the eggs and the tadpoles, then you have to have to have an environment that allows them to survive physiologically as adults."

The next stage for the project was to go out and test some of the ideas highlighted by the working group.

"We can then see if they work and get some idea of cost and whether it is possible to scale them up over a larger area," he said.

The team were also looking to establish a web portal that would allow researchers to submit examples and studies of trails, and the outcomes of those tests.

Dr Shoo said: "We will then be able to get a better sense of what has worked, and we hope to do that quite quickly."

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