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Water Worlds

Sidebar: Troubled Waters

Aquatic species in the wild face a tidal wave of threats, including pollution, climate change, habitat degradation, and overfishing. “We have a global amphibian crisis,” says senior curator Ed Bronikowski, “due to the chytrid fungus”—a lethal organism wiping out whole species of frogs. This has led, he explains, to “a vertebrate extinction rate so rapid and so great it hasn’t been seen since the dinosaurs.” The National Zoo, he notes, is one of five institutions with an insurance colony of Panamanian golden frogs, now extinct in the wild.

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institure: aerial view

Keeper Mike Henley works with corals.. (Mehgan Murphy/NZP)

Ocean dwellers also face the prospect of mass extinction. As many of the world’s coral reefs die out, Zoo marine biologists are racing to grow corals in the laboratory and in the field. Mike Henley, an invertebrate keeper conducting research on corals, stresses how important invertebrates like corals are as cornerstones for the globe’s critical ecosystems. “Corals make up less than one percent of all oceans, yet 25 percent of all marine species depend on the coral reefs,” he says. “Reefs and ocean conservation cannot exist without each other. If you lose one, you lose the other.”

 

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Smithsonian Zoogoer 39(6) 2010. Copyright 2010 Friends of the National Zoo. All rights reserved.