Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by Flickr.com user Kiwi Flickr

Island Press Staff Picks

This week's pick, Saving a Million Species, is from our Marketing Assistant, Meghan Bartels: When it comes to the effects of climate change, biodiversity is difficult to model because we don’t have a firm head count of how many species we started with and the breadth of effects is difficult to encompass, even with computer programs. But in 2004, a study in Nature made headlines, claiming that by 2050 we would lose around a million species to climate change.
Panamanian Golden Frog - Atelopus zeteki by Flickr user brian.gratwicke

Panamanian Golden Frog - Atelopus zeteki by Flickr user brian.gratwicke

Saving a Million Species revisits that estimate in detail, bringing new modeling techniques to the table, examining what we can learn from the fossil record, and looking into the future of habitats and families around the world. The chapter I've included, by Sarah K. McMenamin and Lee Hannah, focuses on the animal that graces the book’s cover, the Panamanian golden toad, and amphibians in general. In the mid-1980s, researchers noticed the toads were no longer breeding; now, while there is a healthy population in labs and zoos, they haven’t been seen in the wild for more than two decades. The culprit is a fungal disease called chytrid, and some researchers argue that the warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change are making frogs more susceptible. Panamanian golden toads aren’t alone:  the IUCN estimates that about half of amphibian species are threatened by climate change. The Panamanian golden toad case is also representative of another of the book’s key points. Although it is the closest thing to a land animal “poster child” of an extinction due to climate change, there is plenty of disagreement about how much blame really lies with climate change because there are so many factors at play—the same reason it is difficult to determine how many species climate change may end up affecting. Read more about the golden toad in Chapter 6: First Extinctions on Land