Program Background

Concern for a worldwide decline in amphibian populations was initially voiced in 1989 at the First World Congress of Herpetology held in England. At this meeting, participants presented scientific papers and exchanged personal accounts of amphibian declines and disappearances. In 1998 an international meeting of experts convened by the National Science Foundation concluded that significant amphibian declines have occurred in protected areas not subjected to obvious changes in habitat, such as national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. Based on the information presented at these and similar meetings, scientists concluded that the numbers and geographic extent of the reports indicated that the situation should be approached as a potential environmental crisis.

Amphibians are considered good indicators of general ecosystem health because of their close association with various aquatic habitats and sensitivity to different environmental stresses. For example, habitat destruction causes amphibian declines, but little is known about the effects of deforestation, highway construction, urban development, and other habitat changes. Additionally, little is known about the role that other potential stressors (e.g., contaminants, introduced species, climate change, ultraviolet radiation, disease, atmospheric deposition, etc.) might play in influencing declines.

Red Mountain boreal toad translocation project Rocky Mountain National Park. Collaborative effort NPS, USGS, Colorado Division of Wildlife, USFS, Colorado Natural Heritage Program and others. Photo by: Rocky Mountain NP
Gills Creek, downstream of Rosewood Drive, Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina
Gills Creek, downstream of Rosewood Drive, Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina

In response to these concerns, the U.S. Congress in 2000 initiated funding for Department of the Interior (DOI) agencies to monitor amphibians on public lands and determine factors affecting their status. Understanding and responding to declines of the Nation's amphibians cannot be done by any single agency. It has required effective cooperation within DOI, and with other Departments, academia and the States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has undertaken surveys for amphibian malformations on the national wildlife refuge system. The USGS established the Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) to provide an integrated assessment of amphibian status and trends and the factors that may be causing declines.

USGS can provide scientific leadership for this effort because the Agency serves as the research arm of the DOI, has a long history of employing research scientists who have pioneered studies on amphibian ecology, and has a nationwide organization that oversees other national monitoring programs.