Frogs have been living on this planet for more than 250 million years, and over the centuries, evolved into some of the most wondrous and diverse creatures on earth. Today, however, all their remarkable adaptations and survival tactics are failing them. Recent discoveries are startling: more than a third of all amphibians – most of which are frogs and toads – have already been lost, and more are disappearing every day. It is an environmental crisis unfolding around the globe, traveling from Australia to North and South America. Where the calls of frogs once filled the air, scientists now hear only silence. Ecosystems are beginning to unravel, and the potential to discover important medical cures may be lost forever. Habitat loss, pollution and a human population that has doubled in the past 50 years have set the stage for their diminished numbers. But now, a fungus called chytrid has been identified as the major culprit, and so far the spread of the fungus can’t be stopped.
Chytrid continues to move quickly, extinguishing entire frog populations in a matter of months. Scientists have taken drastic measures to counteract it, such as evacuating frogs from the wild and sheltering them in a sterile environment. The El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Central Panama, for example, houses 58 species of frogs in their facility, including the rare golden frog, which no longer exists in the wild. To date, the only chytrid-free area left in Panama is the Burbayar Forest, a thriving environment still full of healthy, unaffected frogs.
Frogs may seem small and insignificant, but their bodies may hold the key to important new discoveries in medical research. Scientists are finding that chemical compounds found in frogs’ skins can be used to treat pain and block infections, and are even being explored as HIV treatments. Our chances for the discovery of future medical miracles may be slipping away with the disappearance of these tiny creatures in our midst.
Their impact on the world’s ecosystems is great. Frogs sit right in the middle of the food chain, and without them, other creatures are disappearing, too. We are only just beginning to understand what life may be like without them. The race is on to stem the tide – before the next frog crosses the thin, green line.
Frogs: The Thin Green Line premieres Sunday, April 5 at 8pm ET on PBS (check local listings).
Production Credits Print
Written, Produced and Directed by
NASA/GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH & GAME
U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
RALPH & LISA CUTTER
MINNESOTA POLLUTION CONTROL AGENCY
DR. DAVID SKELLY
NEW SOUTH WALES DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
CAPE COD NATIONAL SEASHORE
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
SIERRA NEVADA AQUATIC RESEARCH LAB
Amphibican Chytrid Maps:
D. OLSON, K. RONNENBERG - US FOREST SERVICE
M. FISHER - IMPERIAL COLLEGE, UK
UNIVERSITY OF MD, COLLEGE PARK
BURBAYAR JUNGLE LODGE, PANAMA
ROBERT COOK, RON GAGLIARDO, JEFF MAUER, JAMES NIELSON, DAMEN OSCARSON, BRAD TIMM
IRENE TEJARATCHI HESS
JULIE SCHAPIRO THORMAN
Executive In Charge
A production of Thirteen and Argofilms in association with WNET.ORG.
This program was produced by Thirteen, which is solely responsible for its content.
© 2009 WNET.ORG
All Rights Reserved
"Introduction" and "Interactive Map" by LARA GROSS
"A World Without Amphibians" and "What You Can Do to Help the Frogs" by INDRANI DATTA
Director of Digital Strategy
Director of Production
DANIEL B. GREENBERG
Photo for "Introduction" and "A World Without Amphibians" by Andrew Young © 2009 WNET.ORG. Photo for "What You Can Do to Help the Frogs" by Josh Cassidy © 2009 WNET.ORG. Other images from Frogs: The Thin Green Line.
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