Members of the public – and children in particular – play a key role in our scientific community. They are often the eyes and the ears for detecting and reporting emerging phenomena. This is especially true for deformed frogs. Many, if not most, observations of abnormal amphibians originate with kids, who pass along their observations to parents and, in turn, to scientists. Recognizing the importance of these reports, we have worked closely with FieldScope and the National Geographic Society to develop a citizen science platform through which people can easily report their observations and learn more about deformed frogs.
Because the online interface includes data from locations across the United States, including over 30 amphibian species, school groups and interested researchers can also use the database to map patterns of deformities by type, by time, or by frequency. To learn more about malformations in amphibians, how to identify species, or to report a malformation observation in your area, visit Malformation Nation. Your reports are often very useful and greatly appreciated; however, for your safety and that of the animal we advise against getting too close to or handling any sick or diseased animals.
We have cultivated a close collaboration with Freshwaters Illustrated, a multimedia non-profit organization devoted to the conservation of freshwater organisms and their habitats. They work tirelessly to bring the world of freshwater to life – using imagery and video to capture the cryptic but fascinating interactions unfolding within ponds, lakes, and rivers, sometimes in our own backyards. Through our ongoing working relationship, we have highlighted the ghastly nature of frog deformities and the critical role of parasite infection in driving such abnormalities, producing both high quality imagery and video vignettes that have been used extensively by educators, media outlets, and conservation groups. New videos and projects are currently in development so stay tuned!
Ongoing emergence of infectious diseases in wildlife has prompted renewed interest in the effects of disease on conservation. Infections ranging from salmonid whirling disease to crayfish plague have had devastating effects in managed and wild populations of freshwater organisms. The purpose behind the Aquatic Parasite Observatory is to investigate infections and their consequences for freshwater taxa, with a focus on amphibians, birds, snails, and fishes. This effort was initially launched to examine the role of infectious agents for amphibians, which have become the most threatened class of vertebrates worldwide due in part to infectious disease threats. In cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, we examined parasites of amphibians collected across National Wildlife Refuges in the United States, which formed the initial nucleus of APO. The website currently includes information on a wide range of parasites found in different freshwater hosts and detailed information on their identification, taxonomy, life cycle, and pathology, if known. It also features information on which parasites have been recorded in different hosts and, for well-studied species, maps of their geographic distribution. Ultimately, this dataset – which continues to grow every year – will be invaluable for understanding large-scale patterns of parasite diversity and abundance, which has enormous relevance for assessing environmental quality (bioindicator species), detecting newly emerging infections, and testing macroecological theory applied to infections.
Our lab is working actively to connect K-12 students with the biological world around them through experiential education. We are currently collaborating with the Science Discovery Center, which is a education outreach program at CU that brings students and researchers together through interactive programs. This program introduces students to the importance of biodiversity in ecosystems and explores its influence on system-level responses, including pathogen transmission. As one educational component, students play a 'biodiversity' board game that incorporates our research on interactions between hosts and parasites to understand the importance of species composition and richness.
Interested in learning more about the Johnson Lab? Find out more about specific projects by checking out our other websites. If you would like to support future research, click the link below to make a donation to the Johnson Lab.