David Scott, Brian Metts, and Stacey Lance
Many years have passed since schoolchildren first discovered hundreds of malformed frogs in a Minnesota farm pond. Twenty years have elapsed since scientists initiated earnest discussions concerning "global amphibian decline." Still, many questions addressing the decline and disappearance of frogs, toads, and salamanders remain unanswered. Which species? How many individuals? Where? And why?
All these questions are the focus of global, ongoing research efforts. Researchers are investigating the myriad possible causes of decline: wetland and terrestrial habitat loss, chytrid fungus, climate change, ozone depletion, aquatic contaminants, endocrine disruption, introduced predators, parasites, acid rain, and more. Regardless of the research topic, in virtually every scientific discussion of the amphibian crisis, one research project is mentioned as a model for acquiring the long-term baseline data needed to understand amphibian population fluctuations. That study is the 34-year Rainbow Bay Monitoring Project at the Savannah River Site (SRS).
Rainbow Bay is a 2.4-acre isolated seasonal wetland in the center of the SRS. Sampling of the amphibian and reptile communities that use the wetland, as well as the surrounding 85-acre terrestrial habitat, began in September 1978. Animal populations have been censused daily since initiation of the study, making this project the longest running community study of its kind in the world. More than 60 scientific articles on the fauna of this wetland have been published, making it one of the best-studied habitats of its type. Although this study was initiated by the Department of Energy to assess potential ecological impacts of construction of a high-level waste vitrification facility (the Defense Waste Processing Facility), it has achieved that monitoring goal and much more. Daily records of the amphibians and reptiles of Rainbow Bay have provided an extensive database regarding seasonal and annual variation in amphibian numbers at a site that remains relatively unimpacted by human activities. SREL's data have become critically important to the scientific and conservation communities in light of concerns about declining amphibian populations worldwide and potential effects of climate change.
The long-term data from Rainbow Bay allow analyses that cannot be conducted on short-term data – these analyses include population trends, environmental determinants of changes in community structure, determinants of survivorship, and potential consequences of climate change.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:We would like to numerous people for their help in starting the Rainbow Bay study and running drift fences in the early years and beyond, including: Jan Caldwell, Brian Crawford, Anne Dancewicz –Helmers, Matt Erickson, Ruth Estes, Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, Gary Moran, Joe Pechmann, Rich Seigel, Ray Semlitsch, and Laurie Vitt. Numerous students also assisted in the field. Rainbow Bay currently serves as a reference site for several studies concerned with potential effects of contaminants on amphibians. Funding for the project is provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of DOE, and the Area Completion Projects group of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS). Work has also been supported by the Department of Energy under Award Number DE-FC09-07SR22506 to the University of Georgia Research Foundation.
Some residents of Rainbow Bay: