Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Check Out This New Website to Act for Amphibians! -- Guest Post --



“Snot otters.” “Mud dogs.” “Allegheny alligators.” Hellbenders—including the Ozark hellbender and Eastern hellbender subspecies—have been given countless nicknames, most of them unflattering, and none indicative of the species’ complex history in the once-pristine freshwater streams of the eastern United States. No, the hellbender is not the archetypical charismatic, anthropomorphized star of a cartoon film accompanied by a catchy soundtrack and thematic toys. But perhaps it should be.

Hellbenders are, in some respects, the unsung heroes of the amphibian world. They play an important role in maintaining ecological balance and, notably, serve as the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine” with respect to North America’s fresh water systems. When hellbenders aren’t doing well, the ecosystem isn’t doing well. By protecting these odd-looking, incredible animals, we can protect other wildlife species, improve human health, and make our ecosystems more resilient. Considered in this light, they begin to seem more like Dr. Seuss’s fictional Lorax, warning us about the plight of other wildlife, freshwater ecosystems, and natural processes impacted by human activity: habitat loss, persecution by collectors, water pollution, invasive species, and climate change. But we have to be willing to pay attention and take action. 

So, how can we make a case to protect these odd, slimy, rarely seen, and disappearing salamanders? Scientists are working hard to study this species in need, but they aren’t able to get the attention of the public to mobilize action to conserve hellbenders. How do we go about supporting the exchange of ideas and information among scientific experts while encouraging members of the public, from students to adults, to take action and support hellbender conservation? 

A team from the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (EWCL) program grappled with these questions as we learned about the hellbender. We wanted to share our fascination with and concern for this amazing, and still somewhat mysterious, animal. We learned that others—from seasoned biologists to state legislators and even popular brewers—shared our ever-growing enthusiasm for the unusual salamander. Most people, though, still don’t know much about the hellbender or the challenges they face. So, our mission became to connect members of the public directly with up-to-date, crowd (expert) sourced, accurate but understandable information to learn more about hellbenders and other amphibians, and how to help them.

Translating threats to amphibians as grades on a report card.

Enter the Amphibian Report Card. The Report Card is an online platform that enables amphibian experts to enter up-to-date information about the species they research and work on. These experts provide information about the species population, habitat, and the number of threats they face. All of this information is then translated into a “report card” for each species, including letter grades on how the species is doing. By using letter grades, people can quickly and easily get insights into the challenges facing amphibian species and ways they can help.

Example Hellbender report card.
So, come check out: amphibianreportcard.org! Dive into the world of hellbenders and how you can help them. Build on your passion and willingness to join in for amphibians in your backyard and across the U.S. by finding direct actions each species needs to reduce its most urgent threats. Help us update the report cards, share the stories of other amphibian species, and find easy ways you and your friends and family can help. Together, we can help make the world hoppy! Individuals and conservation organizations can enter information about conservation projects and actions people can get involved in to save hellbenders and other endangered amphibians. The status of each amphibian’s report card can be easily updated by experts through a simple log-in and a series of questions. Whether you are an experienced ecologist or are simply looking to do your part to protect amphibians in and around your community, we hope you will lend your support to the Amphibian Report Card!

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