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The North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations

The Reporting Center in Brief

The Reporting Center includes a variety of information resources, as well as mechanisms to submit reports of malformed amphibians.

Geographic Representation

The core feature of the Reporting Center is a map of the United States and Canada. Each county or census district for which we have one or more reports is highlighted. Different colors distinguish counties with confirmed records of malformed amphibians from those where amphibian monitoring was conducted, but no malformed animals were detected.

Selecting a state or province brings up a larger-scale map, on which individual counties are outlined. Counties are colored according to the categories described in the previous paragraph, but, in addition, counties with recent (since 1986) reports are distinguished from those with only historic (before 1986) reports.

By selecting a particular county or census district, the user retrieves a table summarizing the reports for that area. A separate summary is given for each visit to a field site and each species encountered; data include the month and year of the visit, common and scientific names of the species, the number of specimens examined that appeared normal, the number with malformations evident, and the types of malformations observed.

Only confirmed reports are included in the Web site. The coordinator of the Reporting Center determines on a case-by-case basis whether or not a report should be considered confirmed prima facie. Two reporting forms are available on the Web site for individuals with different levels of expertise. The technical form is used by biologists; those reports are treated as confirmed. Individuals without specific training in biology use the nontechnical reporting form. For nontechnical reports we ask the reporter if any photos of the animal were taken. If so, we request a copy, either through the mail when their film is developed, or scanned and sent digitally over the Internet. In other cases, the reports are forwarded to a biologist who has volunteered to serve as a verifier for a particular area. If the biologist gets the opportunity to verify the report, he or she replies to the Reporting Center, either confirming the report or not. Individuals reporting malformed animals who appear to be knowledgeable about the issue, such as indicated by using specific anatomical terms to describe the malformations, are telephoned to gain further insight. Many of these reports are considered confirmed after speaking with the individuals who may not be trained biologists, but clearly are interested and knowledgeable in biology. Unconfirmed reports are stored in a data base, but not presented on the Web site.

Descriptive Information

Basic information about the issue of malformed amphibians is presented in non-technical terms, providing a layperson with a quick introduction to the topic. Alternative hypotheses about the causes of malformations are offered, as objectively as possible.

Illustrations of Typical Malformations

A variety of malformations are illustrated with photographs provided by cooperators. These are intended to exemplify the kinds of malformations typically encountered, so that observers will know what to look for. Included types are misshapen, extra, missing, or split limbs; cutaneous fusion; missing eye; and abnormal jaw.

Species Identification Guide

The Reporting Center recently added an identification guide to help observers determine the species of amphibian they find. Included for a number of species and subspecies are one or more photographs, descriptions of key features, and information on its geographical range. We attempt to illustrate the variation in colors shown by certain species and to show ventral as well as dorsal views, to facilitate identification of specimens in the hand. The initial emphasis is on species most commonly reported to the Center.

Sources of Additional Information

Visitors to the Web site can access other information on amphibian malformations. Pertinent articles from a number of newspapers and magazines are posted, as are news releases and articles from newsletters such as Froglog. A searchable bibliography on malformed amphibians and related topics is available. Many entries were provided by Canadian Wildlife Service collaborators; other entries are added regularly. Also included are hot links to other Web sites that deal with related issues.

Technical Information

The Reporting Center provides certain kinds of information of a more technical nature. These include draft standard field forms for recording malformations, protocols developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for surveying malformed amphibians on national wildlife refuges, and a code of practice for amphibian fieldwork developed by the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force. Information about the Amphibian Malformations Listserver is given, including instructions for joining it and an archive of past messages. The listserver was conceived and developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Instructions for Submitting Reports

The Reporting Center allows submission of reports directly over the Internet. Two sets of instructions for doing so are provided. One set is for nonbiologists, for whom technical details are minimized. Requested information includes the observer's name and contact information, location and date of sighting, species of amphibian, its approximate size, description of the malformation, the number of non-malformed amphibians encountered, and habitat description. Instructions for biologists are similar, except that they are asked more specifically to distinguish developmental malformations from possible injuries.

Acknowledgments Section

Here we thank individuals who assisted in the development of the Reporting Center by offering guidance, bibliographies, photographs, or other contributions, as well as the designers of the Web site and the Web authors.

What's New?

When the Web site is updated, the "What's New?" feature lists the changes that have been made. These include additional resources, new articles, and the like. Also listed are states and counties with new reports of malformed amphibians, or with negative reports. The data base is updated to reflect the latest reports about every two weeks during summer, and somewhat less frequently at other times of the year.

To facilitate reporting, the Reporting Center also has established a toll-free number (800-238-9801), which can be used to report observations of malformed amphibians or results of systematic surveys.

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