CORNER BROOK – A Grenfell college environmental science professor is causing a stir across the country and beyond with an article he co-authored in Conservation Biology, a journal published by the Society for Conservation Biology.
Along with David Bickford (National University of Singapore), Navjot Sodhi (National University of Singapore/Harvard University) and Corey Bradshaw (University of Adelaide, Australia), Dr. Warkentin studied the influence that cuisine is having on frog populations.
“My general area of research is conservation biology,” said Dr. Warkentin. “Specifically, humans affect the world’s environment to varying degrees through changing the climate, extracting resources to make things or power our activities, and just going about our daily lives; this field is all about trying to fix the problems that humans create for plants, animals and other organisms because we have either eliminated or degraded much of the habitat in which they live.”
Last year during a sabbatical leave, Dr. Warkentin went to Singapore to work with Dr. Sodhi on a project examining the impact of deforestation on tropical birds.
“One of the great aspects of dropping in on a very active research lab is you get to talk to all sorts of people about a huge range of topics,” he said. “With several like-minded people sitting around a table it’s very easy to quickly put together ideas that can form the basis for a paper.”
One day in conversation with Dr. Bickford (who specializes on Asian amphibians), the subject of frog populations and the frustrating lack of information on harvesting came up; Dr. Sodhi had also been thinking about declining amphibian issues relevant to another paper he was working on at the time, and Dr. Warkentin “was coming from Newfoundland, where the collapse of the fisheries was part of a global pattern that seemed to be mirrrored in the limited frog data available.”
In about half an hour, they had a plan. Dr. Bickford dug around and managed to uncover a dataset on frog harvesting that no one had yet used to look at this issue. Dr. Bradshaw was called in from Australia because of his ability to look at the quantitative side of conservation questions and develop harvest models.
So, an international collection of researchers worked together to address an international problem.
“Conservation problems are universal and don’t necessarily have a nationality – in fact Canada is also an importer of frogs’ legs so it’s not like we’re innocent by-standers in this,” said Dr. Warkentin.
The realization that frogs may be wending their way toward extinction seems unthinkable. Surely they have been with us for so long, and there are so many, that the lasting force of evolutionary durability will see them through?
“The earliest recognizable amphibian fossils date from about 250 million years and they subsequently survived quite a lot, but over the last 20 years there has been a growing recognition that amphibians are in trouble,” said Dr. Warkentin. “In fact, about 32% of about 6,000 species are threatened with extinction, 43% are declining and 160 species have gone extinct in the last three decades. Habitat loss and climate change are the biggest issues but we’re suggesting that while overharvesting may not have caused any of these extinctions yet, they may well be placing some species in peril.”
The findings of the four collaborators, to be released online by the journal shortly, have hit a nerve. Already media and bloggers are responding to the article, the first reaction being from a French blog on Le Monde.fr, titled “Les grenouilles de la discord (Frogs of dissension).”
“I’m surprised by this quick response and amazed at how much attention this article has attracted,” he said. “But I’m also pleased that we’ve got a lot of people thinking about this issue and whether or not we should continue to take frogs from the wild without a clear picture of how sustainable this harvest may actually be.”
For their part, Dr. Warkentin and his team have identified a problem, collected and interpreted the data, and through their article, have provided potential solutions. The article recommends a “mandatory certification process for the harvest of wild frog’s legs.”
“This is not easily nor cheaply implemented, but it is certainly not impossible in terms of the technology either,” he said. “As we pointed out though, the responsibility for the costs of this must be borne by the importing countries. As frog populations continue to decline, there will be more and more need to manage these populations for a sustainable harvest. At that point the industry will have to undertake actions like that we’ve proposed. So it will happen eventually, the question that’s difficult to answer is how long it will take.”
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