Could tropical amphibian creatures pollinate our jungles?

Flitting from one flower to another, collecting nectar for the day’s meal, a bee will distribute pollen on its legs across entire fields, keeping species alive, crops heavy with fruit and populations sustained.

They are among 200,000 species that pollinate, only 1000 of which are vertebrates.

But there may be more still, as a scientist from India, now based in Canada believes even frogs and salamanders are pollinating tropical and subtropical ecosystems, but less romantically than the bee: through its faeces.

Dr. Saikat Basu, a scientist from a Canadian agriculture research firm is looking to study the as yet unexplored territory of amphibians as pollinators, adding them to the ranks of bees, butterflies, bats and birds keeping species alive by spreading their D.N.A.

He wants to study this in the Pacific, where small island nations are the perfect grounds for looking at unique relationships in complex and rich ecosystems.

“Amphibians have not yet been identified and scientifically documented as biological pollinators,” Dr. Basu said.

“It is important to explore and document pollination in such critically endangered species and this could open a new vista in Pollination Biology.”

So how could a frog or salamander (a lizard-like amphibian) pollinate plant species? 

Many amphibians hide and breed inside, or forage for food in bromeliads and orchids, also known as ‘high canopy epiphytes.’ From there, snacks like primary pollinator insects are easy pickings, while they’re visiting those flowers for collecting nectar.

Like a big beard with breadcrumbs, amphibians might carry pollen from their lunch across flowers, helping pollinate the species. Plus, their naturally sticky skin would go some ways into carrying pollen too.

Dr. Basu wants to study species in both their natural habitats and laboratory controlled environments to study how they transport pollen.

But research and conservation efforts might be a little late, with a range of threats affecting some of these amphibian species’ survival, the scientist said. 

Habitat loss, a lack of food, industrial waste, climate change and the “indiscriminate, irresponsible and non-judicious use of various agrichemicals like pesticides and insecticides that is decimating fragile amphibian population around the planet,” are threatening many species, Dr. Basu said.

“In a world where we are losing rare species faster than we are able to discover and describe them, it is important that we act fast and work to identify the […] under evaluated species in tropical and subtropical island environments.

“Such unique ecosystems hold great mysteries in biology and can stun us with their unique symbiotic, semi-symbiotic, non-symbiotic and inter and intra relationships to survive and evolve over time. 

“I am actively looking forward to finding an opportunity and partners to work towards this. 

Dr. Basu wants to find and study different amphibian species across the region in this entirely new area of pollinator research. He said funding, resources and people are of the essence.

Amphibians, as well as uniquely wonderful creatures are also bio-indicators of the health of an ecosystem, and can tell scientists a lot about how well the world is doing. It is one of the many reasons they deserve serious conservation support, Dr. Basu said.

“Drastic loss of amphibians in the natural ecosystem indicates poor quality of the natural environment and their subsequent degradation over time,” he said.

“[There is a] lack of detailed survey results on various threatened, endangered, critically endangered species of amphibians around the world, [and] several species are acutely data deficient.”

There are no frogs or salamander species in Samoa but according to research published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (C.S.I.R.O.), there are just over 30 known frog species in the Pacific, many of which are in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. 

Some are endemic but others like the cane toad were introduced and are now pests in several islands.

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