The Amphibian Conservation Education Project began in 2007 in response to the growing amphibian crisis. Globally, we are facing an amphibian decline which is paralleling the extinction of dinosaurs. Close to 6,000 known species of amphibians live in our world, yet almost 2,000 species are threatened with extinction. Threats that have had an enormous impact of the decline of amphibians include habitat loss, pollution, and diseases such as the Chytrid fungus.
Herpetologists all over the United States and other countries are studying the movement and effects of Chytrid fungus on amphibian populations. By meeting with local researchers, we realized that little was known about amphibian populations and disease in our own state of Nebraska. The Amphibian Conservation Education Project benefits herpetologists' research by providing students the opportunity to participate in relevant citizen science field work.
The project started with an inquiry and challenge-based curriculum called "The Amphibian Crisis," which was introduced to science educators across the state. In addition, several other teacher resources were created to help in the classroom. Included in the curriculum is a lesson that involves observing amphibian habitats, water quality, populations, ranges, and the presence or absence of Chytrid fungus. A statewide effort began to train 4-H leaders, educators, and youth to participate in the amphibian monitoring study. The information gathered by the students is entered into a database for the project. Local herpetologists are able to access the database to determine where Chytrid fungus and amphibian species are being found. From this data, scientists are able to focus on specific areas of the state where more extensive research needs to be conducted. Educators are also able to use the database to evaluate the health of habitats and amphibian populations by looking at data from prior years and comparing it to current conditions.
This unique project has been incredibly successful thus far. Many of the teachers and students have returned each season to continue the study and expand the project into other related areas. Currently, Newman-Grove Public School in Nebraska has a group of 18 students lead by two dynamic science teachers that began participating in the project in the summer of 2009. In the summer of 2010, the group participated again with new students and several returning; they plan on continuing their monitoring efforts each summer. In addition, one of these students took her experiences one step further and decided to research atrazine levels (a toxic chemical to amphibians) in a nearby creek with the guidance of Zoo staff. This Newman-Grove student is just one of many students that have taken a special interest in amphibian conservation. In addition, with the support of many enthusiastic educators and herpetologists, the Amphibian Conservation Education Project is being expanded into other states in the Midwest.
The Amphibian Conservation Education Project is a win-win effort for educators, students, herpetologists, Omaha's Zoo, and most importantly – amphibians. The inspiration and excitement gained through this project, creates an incredible surge of environmental awareness and empowerment to make a difference.
Please visit the Education page on our website at www.omahazoo.com for more information.