Amphibians, and specifically frogs, are classified as something called an "indicator species." This means that whenever something in the environment changes, be it annual temperature, pollution or even global warming, those changes will affect them first.
At the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, we use the occurrence of wildlife in the watershed as a key part of helping to preserve wetlands. The wildlife that inhabits the watershed, such as frogs, can be a very good indicator as to how the watershed is doing. The conservancy can use the presence of indicator species to not only help determine the health of the land surrounding the lake and other waterways but also enhance the water quality of those waterways.
The reason that frogs are considered an indicator species is that they live both on land and in water and are directly influenced by their surroundings. When they are in water, they breathe through their skin. Although this may sound pretty cool to you, it also means that frogs are much more likely to absorb or take in toxins and diseases that are present in the environment. In severe situations, it can even become fatal to them.
Amphibians, like this frog, are good indicators of the health of a watershed.
Frogs need water that is free of toxins to grow and flourish. When there is pollution in the lakes, ponds, streams and even puddles that support life, it can mean a pretty unhappy life for your little green friend. When the watershed becomes polluted, the conditions may become too harsh for them to survive. Think about when you walk or drive through an area that has an unpleasant smell. What is the first thing you do? Usually, you plug your nose or maybe even leave the area, and sometimes, depending on how bad it smells, you may not return. Well, when it comes to frogs, it isn't that simple. It is their home, where they raise their young and get their food to live. It may or may not be possible for them to just leave.
Because these species are so sensitive to environmental changes, conservationists often look to them to help determine the health of an ecosystem. Generally speaking, if there is a swampy, vegetated wet area or stream, then there should be frogs there. So, when you look around an area where you would expect to see lots of little frogs hopping around your feet and you don't see any, there is usually an environmental reason why.
The watershed can become polluted in many ways. Common pollutants come from littering or from chemicals, such as fertilizers, that have been applied to lawns and fields and have been carried by runoff into streams or lakes. Because these waterways can sometimes be miles away from them, many people do not realize the damage they are doing and are unaware of the consequences they are creating for themselves and others around them. Others think the consequences of their actions are not important because those affected by them are "just frogs" and they do not really care about seeing them in their surroundings. But what many people don't realize is that, if the pollutants are bad enough to sicken, chase away or even kill the frogs in their watershed, then they can be bad enough to cause harm to the people in that watershed too.
So, keep these species in mind when you wonder just how clean your local water source is and maybe take a walk to see how many frogs you can spot in a nearby wetland.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local, private nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information on CWC, visit us at chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed or call 664-2166.