Alaska Ecologist Mari K. Reeves imparted an infectious enthusiasm for the wonder of frogs when she spoke on “Amphibian Abnormalities and their Environmental Linkages: Observations and Musings after a Decade of Research” at Oregon State University last month (4/3/2015), as part of the One Health Seminar Series that veterinarian/ PhD-candidate Rhea Hanselmann has been promoting on campus (http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/one-health-seminars ).
One Health is “the concept that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are directly linked, and that the condition of one can affect the health of the others.” It is a global movement endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other national and international organizations seeking to unite healthcare efforts for more comprehensive prevention and treatment of disease. Given that 70% of new and recurring human diseases are related to animal carriers or environmental stressors, it makes sense to address well-being in this more holistic way. Hanselmann, who is researching the effects of environmental change on the incidence of Hanta-virus infections, is working with Luiz Bermudez in the Department of Biomedical Sciences to develop One Health courses. They hope that OSU will begin to offer integrated classes and eventually a One Health credential program for undergraduate students.
Frogs have historically been a favorite creature for biological studies, because so much of their development is visible as they change from egg to tadpole to frog. Because they then migrate to totally different habitats, they are also exposed to a wider variety of environmental hazards than most other species. When a frog population starts declining rapidly, or includes many frogs with deformed or extra limbs as was noticed in the Midwest several years ago, how can one tell what is going on? Pollutants, parasites, predators, climate change – any of these could be driving the demise of a frog population. In a large-scale study published by Reeves and her colleagues in Ecological Monographs (August 2010), the researchers found that the most important factor in frog survival was where they lived. The quality of their habitat proved to be a mitigating factor for other stressors, contributing to better health and survival rates. Again, the corollary lesson for humans seems clear: protecting our habitat is the best way to protect our health.
Unfortunately for frogs, clean habitat is hard to come by. A 2013 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that over half of U.S. streams and rivers are in poor condition. Reeves ended her talk with a call for help in cleaning up our waterways. Her descriptions of frogs (which included listening to a recording of them croaking!) inspired a deep sense of delight and wonder in these amazing creatures. Furthermore, in helping frogs, we very likely will be helping ourselves in ways we don’t yet understand.