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Climate change could leave Pacific Northwest amphibians off guard: Study

The wildfires raging in Washington’s forests resulting in dry Pacific Northwest lowlands may affect the region’s amphibians like frogs high and dry hopping elsewhere, said a new study.

The study forecasts changes to four different types of these ecosystems: ephemeral, intermediate, perennial and permanent wetlands and its results showed that climate-induced reductions in snowpack, increased evaporation rates, longer summer droughts and other factors lading to the loss or rapid drying of many of these small but ecologically important wetlands.

The study said more than half of the intermediate wetlands are projected to convert to fast-drying ephemeral wetlands by the year 2080. These most vulnerable ponds are the same ones that now provide the best habitat for frogs and salamanders.

At risk are unique species such as the Cascades frog, which is currently being evaluated for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Found only at high elevations in Washington, Oregon and California, Cascades frogs can live for 20 years and can survive under tens of feet of snow. During the mating season, just after ponds thaw, the males make chuckling sounds to attract females.

“This year is an analog for the 2070s in terms of the conditions of the ponds in response to climate,” said Se-Yeun Lee, research scientist at University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and one of the lead authors of the study.

Study co-author Wendy Palen, an associate professor at Canada’s Simon Fraser University who has for many years studied mountain amphibians in the Pacific Northwest, says: “More years like 2015 do not bode well for the frogs.”

The paper was published Sept. 2 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

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