The past three decades have seen major declines in populations of several species of amphibians at high elevations in eastern Puerto Rico, a region unique in the humid tropics because of the degree of environmental monitoring that has taken place through the efforts of U.S. government agencies. I examined changes in environmental conditions by examining time-series data sets that extend back at least into the 1980s, a period when frog populations were declining. The data include forest cover; annual mean, minimum, and maximum daily temperature; annual rainfall; rain and stream chemistry; and atmospheric-dust transport. I examined satellite imagery and air-chemistry samples from a single National Aeronautics and Space Administration aircraft flight across the Caribbean showing patches of pollutants, described as thin sheets or lenses, in the lower troposphere. The main source of these pollutants appeared to be fires from land clearing and deforestation, primarily in Africa. Some pollutant concentrations were high and, in the case of ozone, approached health limits set for urban air. Urban pollution impinging on Puerto Rico, dust generation from Africa (potential soil pathogens), and tropical forest burning (gaseous pollutants) have all increased during the last three decades, overlapping the timing of amphibian declines in eastern Puerto Rico. None of the data sets pointed directly to changes so extreme that they might be considered a direct lethal cause of amphibian declines in Puerto Rico. More experimental research is required to link any of these environmental factors to this problem.
Additional publication details
Possible environmental factors underlying amphibian decline in eastern Puerto Rico: Analysis of U.S. government data archives