The environmental services provided by ecosystems influence our quality of life. These services are divided into four categories: provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supportive services. Amphibians provide humanity with services in all four categories, which is why their decline has grave consequences not only for them, but for us as well.
Regarding provisional services, the products obtained from amphibians, including pharmaceutical drugs that are derived mainly from their skin secretions, are countless in both traditional and modern medicine, and many more remain to be discovered—from anesthesia and heartburn treatments to the potential use of their skin peptides to prevent HIV infections. It is also noteworthy that amphibians provide food supplies, because in many countries they are an important part of the local populations’ diet.
Additionally, amphibians contribute regulating services, such as controlling insects like mosquitos that are not only irritating to humans but also can seriously affect human health through the transmission of diseases like malaria. Also, amphibians control many agricultural pests and, usually, control the population of many invertebrate species.
As for cultural value, there are countless examples of inspiration from these animals in aesthetic, religious, and spiritual senses. In these areas, amphibians are symbols of fertility, abundance, magic, danger, and more, for many cultures. In today’s society, our fascination with amphibians is enormous, and for children it is an ideal way for them to get closer to nature and learn more about it. In the scientific community, there is a growing interest in their study and an even greater concern for their decline. Lastly, amphibians are an excellent indicator of environmental quality which are, as we attempt to preserve and improve the state of our ecosystems, tremendously useful.
Finally, the environmental services that amphibians contribute to the most are, perhaps, support services. These services include physical support and support related to ecosystem function. As to the former, some amphibians are able to contribute to the physical maintenance of ecosystems by digging into the ground and by moving through the aquatic environment which promotes circulation, but their greatest contribution is to the ecosystem function.
To this point, their role in the food chain is essential, as both predator and as prey, as both primary consumers and as decomposers; accordingly, the disappearance of amphibians can alter the entire ecosystem. Amphibian larvae are fundamental in the aquatic environment. Both salamander and newt larvae are predators and, as such, control the population of zooplankton, while tadpoles of frogs and toads are consumers of algae and are decomposers. In some aquatic zones, the biomass of amphibians can be incredibly high, and their disappearance could lead to radical changes in primary production, decomposition, and more. Lastly, amphibians also serve an important function in the ecosystem’s nutrient cycle as they act as recipients of nitrogen.
Unfortunately, the high rate of extinction of amphibians, the highest recorded rate in history, is causing us to lose many of the services that we know these animals provide to ecosystems and, likely, still even more services that we will never discover.