News / Science Cafe

Amphibian endangerment might be correlated with human health issues, prof says


By Ryan Powers

Snow melts, soil unfreezes and temperatures rise with the frogs and lizards of Athens, yet one may be hard-pressed to find them.

Dr. Scott Moody, a biology professor at Ohio University, delivered a presentation on the state of Ohio’s frogs and lizards during Feb. 19’s Science Cafe. A question-and-answer session followed.

The talk was entitled, “Endangered Species of Amphibians: Why Their Survival is Vital to Our Health.”

Among the endangered species is one of Moody’s favorites, the American spadefoot toad.

“Our mascot shouldn’t be a bobcat,” Moody said. “It should be the spadefoot toad.”

Perhaps it should be, considering that the first American spadefoot toad to be recorded in a science journal was found in Athens, Ohio, in 1943, according to Moody.

The American spadefoot toad population in Athens is now extirpated, meaning there are none living naturally in the Athenian outdoors. Moody said there was originally a large population of them where the East State Street shopping mall is.

Moody told the story of how the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) asked him to find more populations of the American spadefoot toad in 1986. At that point, there had not been a recorded sighting of one in years.

Although Moody was successful, finding his first population in Belpre, Ohio, he said he is still concerned about their future. American spadefoot toad populations are still small in number, according to Moody.

Other species of amphibians are also declining in population in Ohio. These species include the tiger salamander, spring salamander, mud salamander and Blanchard’s cricket frog.

The reasons for their decline is what concerns Moody. He cited herbicides such as Atrazine, which has been attributed to hormonal problems in animals.

Moody said that problems in humans, such as the upward trend of fertility problems, cancer, diabetes, autism, ADHD and others show a strong correlation with increased use of herbicides.

“It’s been experimentally shown in the laboratory that things like frogs and fish are showing the same reproductive problems and hormonal problems when treated and made to live in the water with the same levels of herbicides,” Moody said. “So because humans, frogs and fish have the same biological processes, it stands to reason that it’s probably causing the same problems in humans.”

However, until it is concretely proven that herbicides have the same effects on humans, the relationship between their increased use and hormonal problems remain strictly a correlation.

Regardless, since the effects of herbicides on frogs and lizards are known, Moody called for action, stating that consumers should vote with their wallets.

“If everybody switched to raising their own food or buying all organic, that would go a tremendous way to protecting amphibians, fish, reptiles as well as people,” Moody said.

Connor Hall, an OU sophomore and biology student, said he believes buying organic is a good way to protect the ecosystem. In fact, he would like to buy organic, but he believes he is constricted due to his underclassmen status.

“As a college student, it’s a little bit hard because there’s the dining hall options,” Hall said. “After I get out of the dorms, I’d like to get onto a better-for-the-environment diet.”

When asked if he thought the dining halls have a responsibility to buy organic, Hall said, “As a business decision, probably not. They’re trying to make money, and organic foods typically aren’t so cheap. I feel morally they should be held accountable, but that’s not necessarily what’s representative of what’s going to happen.”

Moody responded to this belief, emphasizing the efforts of Ohio University’s Culinary Services to buy local food.

“Actually, food services has been making a lot of shift to local foods,” Moody said. “Athens County has a lot of organic farms and gardens that raise a lot of produce. They supply not only local restaurants, but a lot of restaurants in Columbus rely on the growers in the Athens area. So the buyers for the food services do get a lot of organic food, or food that’s minimally treated with herbicides right here.”

Buying organic foods is one way to preserve the environment. However, Aline Rocha, a first year biology student from Brazil, hopes to learn other ways.

“I’d like to bring this subject to my country,” Rocha said. “For example, ways to preserve endangered species — I’d like to learn new ways here.”

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