The Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI): 5-year report

Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5224

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The Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) is an innovative, multidisciplinary program that began in 2000 in response to a congressional directive for the Department of the Interior to address the issue of amphibian declines in the United States. ARMI’s formulation was cross-disciplinary, integrating U.S. Geological Survey scientists from Biology, Water, and Geography to develop a course of action (Corn and others, 2005a). The result has been an effective program with diverse, yet complementary, expertise.

ARMI’s approach to research and monitoring is multiscale. Detailed investigations focus on a few species at selected local sites throughout the country; monitoring addresses a larger number of species over broader areas (typically, National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges); and inventories to document species occurrence are conducted more extensively across the landscape. Where monitoring is conducted, the emphasis is on an ability to draw statistically defensible conclusions about the status of amphibians. To achieve this objective, ARMI has instituted a monitoring response variable that has nationwide applicability. At research sites, ARMI focuses on studying species/environment interactions, determining causes of observed declines, and developing new techniques to sample populations and analyze data. Results from activities at all scales are provided to scientists, land managers, and policymakers, as appropriate.

The ARMI program and the scientists involved contribute significantly to understanding amphibian declines at local, regional, national, and international levels. Within National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, findings help land managers make decisions applicable to amphibian conservation. For example, the National Park Service (NPS) selected amphibians as a vital sign for several of their monitoring networks, and ARMI scientists provide information and assistance in developing monitoring methods for this NPS effort. At the national level, ARMI has had major exposure at a variety of meetings, including a dedicated symposium at the 2004 joint meetings of the Herpetologists’ League, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Several principal investigators have brought international exposure to ARMI through venues such as the World Congress of Herpetology in South Africa in 2005 (invited presentation by Dr. Gary Fellers), the Global Amphibian Summit, sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Wildlife Conservation International, in Washington, D.C., 2005 (invited participation by Dr. P.S. Corn), and a special issue of the international herpetological journal Alytes focused on ARMI in 2004 (edited by Dr. C.K. Dodd, Jr.).

ARMI research and monitoring efforts have addressed at least 7 of the 21 Threatened and Endangered Species listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (California red-legged frog [Rana draytonii], Chiricahua leopard frog [R. chiricahuensis], arroyo toad [Bufo californicus], dusky gopher frog [Rana sevosa], mountain yellow-legged frog [R. muscosa], flatwoods salamander [Ambystoma cingulatum], and the golden coqui [Eleutherodactylus jasperi]), and 9 additional species of concern recognized by the IUCN. ARMI investigations have addressed time-sensitive research, such as emerging infectious diseases and effects on amphibians related to natural disasters like wildfire, hurricanes, and debris flows, and the effects of more constant, environmental change, like urban expansion, road development, and the use of pesticides.

Over the last 5 years, ARMI has partnered with an extensive list of government, academic, and private entities. These partnerships have been fruitful and have assisted ARMI in developing new field protocols and analytic tools, in using and refining emerging technologies to improve accuracy and efficiency of data handling, in conducting amphibian disease, malformation, and environmental effects research, and in implementing a network of monitoring and research sites. Accomplishments from these endeavors include more than 40 publications on amphibian status and trends, nearly 100 publications on amphibian ecology and causes of declines, and over 30 methodological publications. Several databases have emerged as a result of ARMI and its partnerships; one, a digital atlas of ranges for all U.S. amphibian species, was used by the IUCN to display amphibian distribution maps in the Global Amphibian Assessment Project.

Given the scope of ARMI and the panoply of projects, findings have had implications for policy. Investigations that demonstrate amphibian declines or illuminate causes of declines provide valuable information about habitat management, environmental effects, mechanisms for the spread of disease, and human/amphibian interfaces. This information has been made available to land managers, scientists, educators, Congress and other policymakers, and the public. The support afforded ARMI by Congress has been influential in the program’s development and success. The value of ARMI’s efforts will continue to increase as we are able to extend our studies spatially and temporally to answer critical questions with more confidence. We are using ARMI’s resources efficiently and continuing to develop innovative mechanisms for leveraging resources for maximum effectiveness during challenging financial times.

This report is a 5-year retrospective of the structure, methodology, progress, and contributions to the broader scientific community that have resulted from this national USGS program. We evaluate ARMI’s success to date, with regard to the challenges faced by the program and the strengths that have emerged. We chart objectives for the next 5 years that build on current accomplishments, highlight areas meriting further research, and direct efforts to overcome existing weaknesses.

Additional publication details

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USGS Numbered Series
The Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI): 5-year report
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
viii, 77 p.
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