Amphibian Contributions to Ecosystem Services
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
Ecosystems provide essential services for human society, which include provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services. Amphibians provide provisioning services by serving as a food source for some human societies, especially in Southeast Asia. They also serve as models in medical research and provide potential for new pharmaceuticals such as analgesics and anti-viral drugs derived from skin secretions. Amphibians contribute to regulating services by reducing mosquito recruitment from ephemeral wetlands, potentially controlling other pest species, and indirectly through predation of insect pollinators. Often neglected, ecosystems also provide cultural services to human societies that increase the quality of human life through recreation, religion, spirituality, and aesthetics. As an abundant and diverse class of vertebrates, amphibians also play prominent roles in the culture of human societies through pathways such as mythology, literature, and art. Most research on the role of amphibians in ecosystems has been on their contribution to supporting services. This is also the area where amphibians are likely to have the largest contribution to ecosystem services. Supporting services have structural (e.g., habitat) and functional (e.g., ecosystem functions and processes) components. Amphibians can affect ecosystem structure through soil burrowing and aquatic bioturbation and ecosystem functions such as decomposition and nutrient cycling through waste excretion and indirectly through predatory changes in the food web. They also can control primary production in aquatic ecosystems through direct consumption and nutrient cycling. Unfortunately, amphibians are experiencing major declines and humans may be losing associated ecosystem services. It is important to understand how declines affect ecosystem services for human societies, but these declines can also serve as natural experiments to understand the role of amphibians in ecosystems.