Saturday, January 14, 2006

Some doubts about climate change and the froggies

Carl Zimmer has an excellent post about some recent science news concerning the extinction of frog species in Latin America. Short version: climate change may be facilitating the spread of a devastating fungus disease responsible for the disappearing frogs.

I have some doubts about this. While the extent of climate change and the warmth that we currently have exceeds anything in the last thousand years or more, that is just a wink of an eye in the biological lifetime of a species. These frog should have faced prior similarly warm global temperatures, which presumably would have had similar microclimate effects. If the frogs made it through similar periods in the past, why are they in so much trouble now?

The difference between me and my conservative friends who deny global warming is that the denialists would rely on this amateur doubt to conclude that the experts were complete frauds, and stop thinking about it any further. In my case, I haven't even read the original scientific articles, and because I'm not an expert I acknowledge that I might be missing something. Or maybe the experts argue that this is a contributing cause, not the exclusive cause of potential extinctions, which would make sense to me. Anyway, in my head this subject is getting filed under the heading, "Things That May Be Happening but I'm Not Sure Yet".

One final note: I was curious about the fact that none of the climate-focused bloggers on my blog roll had written on the subject. Then it occurred to me - they're climatologists, not biologists, so they decided not to write about something outside of their expertise. Fortunately, I can easily surmount barriers that stop mere experts.

UPDATES: more developments - in comments, James mentions a post by Pat Michaels (whoops, wrong link there, here's the right one) that suggests the fungal disease is a new, accidental human import. I see no innate conflict between the disease being new and it being made worse by climate change. The disease being new could also explain why past warmings didn't have similar extinction effects. Tim L. disputes another part of Michaels' post, and in general isn't impressed with Michaels' work. I'd also note that that Michaels' discussion of annual average cloud cover figures isn't very helpful - you really need seasonal and day/night cloud cover data.

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