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Christian Fischer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Christian Fischer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Common Toads Aren't So Common Anymore

Christian Fischer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Christian Fischer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

If the global decline of honeybees has taught us anything, it’s that even the most commonplace, ordinary species are vulnerable. Researchers working with the “Toads on Roads” project now report that populations of common toads are shrinking in the UK and Switzerland. They published their findings today in the journal PLOS One.

The common toad (Bufo bufo) may look rugged, but it’s actually quite fussy about certain things. Mating, for instance—they only want to do it in the ponds where they were born. This typically necessitates a mass migration from their adult territories. Like crabby toddlers, the toads require routine. They’ll follow the same paths back to the pond year after year, hopping around new housing developments and across roads if they have to.

This does not always go well for them—but they’re not totally alone. Volunteer corps of amphibian sympathizers have existed since the 1950s, forming patrols by the side of busy motorways to carry warty would-be lovers to safety. One group, Froglife, has been running its “Toads on Roads” program for more than two decades, helping tens of thousands of amphibians each year. 

It’s an incredible volunteer network. And if you’re a herpetologist, it’s also a pretty excellent source of population data. All you have to do is organize survey nights and hand out plastic buckets.

The researchers behind the current study pulled toad migration statistics from Froglife and other pro-toad volunteer groups from 1975 to 2014 in the UK and from 1973 to 2012 in Switzerland. They knew that most of the toads caught and recorded would represent just part of the whole population—namely, the adults—and used those numbers and what they knew about toad life cycles to estimate how large each population was. They looked at 153 populations in the UK and 141 populations in Switzerland. 

The numbers were not encouraging: Researchers found that since the 1980s, toad numbers in both countries have gone down quickly and continuously. Within a few years, if these trends continue, the so-called "common toad" could qualify for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List, which identifies species on the brink.

“The fact that toad abundance significantly declined across both countries since the 1980s even at sites where there was an obvious and long-term conservation action in place, (i.e. moving individual toads across the roads by volunteers) is troubling,” the authors write.

The precise causes of the toads’ decline are not completely clear, although the scientists did find a thoroughly unsurprising relationship between urbanization and toad population decline. Traffic and automobile density have greatly increased in both countries over the last 30-plus years; in the UK alone, they've doubled. The toads are also up against some very familiar issues: habitat loss, disease, and climate change.

“While significant conservation improvements have recently been achieved for some endangered species,” the authors conclude, “common species, including amphibians, are still rapidly declining in Europe, largely unnoticed due to lack of resources for monitoring and despite the fact that such species have a disproportionate impact in providing ecosystem function and structure.” 

Want to roll up your sleeves and get in on the toad-saving action? If you live in the UK, visit the Froglife website and look for a toad patrol near you. Live elsewhere? Check out your local wildlife center or conservation organization and see if they need help.
 

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Animals
The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
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Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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