Monday, 2 April 2018

Human threats to the amphibian tree of life

March 27, 2018 by Jim Shelton, Yale University

A new study by researchers at Yale and George Washington University examines the human threats to the amphibian family tree and calls for a rethinking of conservation priorities to preserve species diversity and evolutionary heritage.

Amphibians represent an important bellwether of global change, scientists say, due to their particularly high sensitivity to disturbances in their environment. There are more than 7,000 amphibian species on Earth, including frogs, toads, caecilians, newts, mudpuppies, and hellbenders.

"Amphibians are a globally endangered group for which threats from global change are outpacing our ability to safeguard species," said Walter Jetz, lead author of a paper published online March 26 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Jetz is an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and director of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change.

Jetz and co-corresponding author R. Alexander Pyron of George Washington constructed the first comprehensive family tree for nearly all amphibious species alive today. The researchers used the data to examine historical diversification patterns of amphibians as well as species' level of isolation on the family tree, also called evolutionary distinctness.

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