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Texas Tech Biology Lab Helps "Save the Frogs"

Removing trash can help prevent death and deformities in amphibians.

Written by John Davis

Amphibians are disappearing due to pollution, infection, climate change and loss of habitat.

Amphibians are disappearing due to pollution, infection, climate change and loss of habitat.

To celebrate Save the Frogs Day, a group of 54 volunteers removed 3,200 gallons of trash on April 27 from Lubbock playa lakes in the hope of making the water resources better suited for amphibian breeding and living.
 
Cleaning crews surpassed last year’s amount by 1,200 gallons after removing 76 30-gallon and 71 13-gallon bags of garbage from playas that were strategically chosen because of the presence of amphibians.

The cleanup and educational workshops held at the Science Spectrum were organized by the Bernal Lab at Texas Tech University’s Department of Biological Sciences. Organizers want to raise awareness of the decline of anurans and improve the breeding habitat for frogs and toads on the South Plains.

Ximena (Hee-may-nah) Bernal, an assistant professor who studies frogs and toads in Central America, said removing trash that leaks chemicals can help prevent death and deformities in amphibians as well as discourage other animals that also prey on amphibians.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the great turnout,” she said. “We could not have done it without the support from all the volunteer graduate and undergraduate students from Texas Tech that participated.”

Benjamin Hawkes, a senior undergraduate researcher at the Bernal Lab, volunteered to lead the team at one of the playa lakes. He said he and other volunteers were shocked at the amount of garbage in the playa lakes when they arrived.

Removing trash that leaks chemicals can help prevent death and deformities in amphibians.

Removing trash that leaks chemicals can help prevent death and deformities in amphibians.

“I was surprised at the turnout for Save the Frogs Day,” Hawkes said. “It was great to have so many helping hands. I think we had a great group of people. Many of them couldn’t believe the amount of trash at the playa lake. I heard a number of them talk about how great they felt after helping to clean it up.”

Amphibians are disappearing at an alarming rate around the world, Bernal said. Pollution, infection, climate change and loss of habitat all play a role. In the past 30 years, about 200 amphibian species have vanished, she said, which is equivalent to losing about one species every two months.

“The events are a fun way to make people aware of a very serious problem,” Bernal said. “Frogs are very important to our ecosystem. They eat insects, such as mosquitoes, that carry diseases that harm humans and animals. They, in turn, are food for other creatures. If frogs disappear, then the food chain is disrupted, and this will have negative ramifications on other species.”

By visiting a local school on Thursday and collaborating with The Science Spectrum, lab members held 15 workshops about frogs and toads for more than 300 middle school girls from 24 school districts in Region 17 as well as 80 kindergarteners. Most of these workshops dovetailed into the annual Women in Science Endeavors (WISE) program.

The Science Spectrum is helping educate children through frog and toad workshops.

The Science Spectrum is helping educate children through frog and toad workshops.

“The girls were really excited about frogs,” said Sara Candler, a workshop leader and graduate student at the Bernal Lab. “They were shocked and laughed when they learned new things about frogs and some of the unique characteristics of the group and certain species. When the girls learned frogs are declining, they looked surprised and sad. Many of them already were taking part in activities to help the frogs, and others asked more about what they could do to help.”

Priyanka de Silva, also a graduate student in Bernal’s lab, said students learned about the life cycles of frogs and toads and enjoyed watching cane toads race in the locomotor performance trials experiment performed by the girls. Workshop leaders also taught children about nature’s balance and how cane toads are considered an invasive species in certain parts of the world after humans transplanted them from their natural habitat for pest control.

Originally from Central and South America, the warty, four-pound cane toads were brought in 1936 to Australia to control cane beetle populations. Instead of eating the pesky beetles, the toads depleted other native species of animals and reproduced wildly because of the lack of predators. Because of the protective venom glands on their heads, the toads would poison animals that tried to eat them, including people’s pets, and sometimes made humans sick.

“Most of the kids were exited and thrilled about getting to touch cane toads,” de Silva said. “They had so much fun with them. They kept asking why they were called cane toads and why they are consider invasive. Seems they loved them and were not happy to consider them as pests. All of the kids were very upset when they heard that we are losing such big numbers of frog friends. They realized why they are important to the ecosystem.”

Volunteers removed 3,200 gallons of trash from Lubbock playa lakes.

Volunteers removed 147 bags of trash from Lubbock playa lakes.

Last year, volunteers removed 58 30-gallon and 22 13-gallon bags of garbage from our target playas. This is the third year the Bernal Lab hosted a Save the Frogs Day event. In 2011, about 700 Texas Tech’s students, faculty and staff set a world record during the Arbor Day celebrations on April 29 for the most people in one place wearing frog masks, according to the World Records Academy.

The first year was a great opportunity to do something fun and jumpstart a grass-roots effort to improve amphibian life on the South Plains, Bernal said.

“This is an important day because it reminds us that we can do small things to help frogs and toads in our area,” she said. “Many people take these animals for granted or ignore how important they are given their role in the food web. This day provides an excellent opportunity to educate the public about the current state of this group of animals. Like the canary in the mine shaft, frogs and toads are excellent bioindicators of the health of ecosystems and the fact that they are not doing well is a worrisome sign of the environmental stress of our planet.”

For more information on threats to frogs: www.savethefrogs.com/threats/index.html.

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Ximena Bernal

Ximena Bernal is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

View her profile in our online Experts Guide.

Biological Sciences

The Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University hosts a variety of academic degree programs aimed toward the advancement of knowledge, learning, teaching and research of the natural world.

The Department hosts a variety of centers and programs focused on the life sciences which provide research opportunities including:

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