The global pet trade of amphibians is larger than we thought

People keep a wide variety of animals as their pets and new species are continually being introduced to the market – some raised in captivity, but many from the wild. The global pet trade puts wild populations in danger of over-exploitation. The Global Amphibian Assessment identifies 47 amphibian types as being primarily threatened by the unsustainable harvesting of international pets.

The risks do not end there. People release their pets in the wild for a variety of reasons. This can lead to biological invasions. Some people release pets into the wild because it’s not the experience they were expecting or they cannot afford to keep them. It is possible to introduce species outside of their natural range. These invasive species can cause harm to native species and spread diseases into new areas. The pet trade, for example, is associated with the spread of a fungal infection of salamanders throughout Europe. This has led to a large-scale salamander death.

Amphibians (frogs) are particularly at risk. Amphibian populations are declining worldwide due to habitat destruction and climate change. Invasive species, diseases, and diseases also contribute to the decline. Amphibians, the pest controllers of excellence, are in danger not only because they threaten agricultural security but also because their loss can cause imbalances within ecosystem processes.

Internet commerce makes it easier to add new amphibian species and a growing number of them. Trade is the main way amphibians are introduced into new areas. Around the world, at least 104 species of amphibians are considered invasive.

Understanding which species are affected by the pet trade is important. It’s also crucial to know which species can lead to invasive populations after release. We aimed to evaluate the pet amphibian trade in our new study. We identified the species being traded, why they are being traded, and predicted what species will be targeted in the future. Nearly 450 amphibian species were found in the pet trade and moved in large numbers around the globe.

In the last five years, US imports alone have accounted for 3.6 million amphibians as pets. This trade is so large that it indicates more species will be released in non-native areas and spread disease. Before purchasing, amphibian lovers must consider whether the species will meet their expectations and the costs of ownership.

What species are traded?

We searched the scientific literature and databases of imports for amphibians traded around the world. We then looked at the differences between traded and non-traded amphibians. We used the AmphiBIO database to find out about amphibian traits, such as body size and reproductive ability. We also checked if the species were threatened or not, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. We looked at whether these traits might explain the amount of trade for each species.

We were able to produce a list with 443 traded species. Six amphibian families accounted for a disproportionately large number of traded species. Unsurprisingly, the colorful poison dart family is a big seller in the market. The families of reed and tongueless frogs are more surprising to be popular as pets.

The species that are traded tend to be larger. The owner may avoid very small sizes because it is difficult to handle or see the pet frequently. The range size of traded species was also larger, possibly due to their ease of collecting from the wild. The final trait of traded species is a “larval breeding type” (indirect development), resulting in offspring that are more affordable to raise than direct-developing species.

These results can help to explain why certain species are traded. Not only is it important to know what species pet lovers prefer, but also how easy they are to raise in captivity.

The main reasons for trading species were body size, range size, and breeding type. Then, we used these traits in order to predict and list species which could become future pets. Interestingly, species traits did not explain the amount of trade.

Blind Spots

Our investigation is a good overview of the market, but it does have some blind spots. Our pet list is likely to be underrepresented by the trade in Asia, which remains largely unstudied. The analysis did not include all of the factors that could predict the popularity of pets. For example, color and call were not scored on the majority (around 7,000) amphibians. Our research lab is doing more to determine what traits are attractive to owners of amphibians and which species will be released.

Pet ownership comes along with responsibilities, not only for the health of the animals but also for any unwanted effects that their trade may have. Our information will make pet traders and owners more aware of the negative effects that their trade could have. Great pets bring great responsibilities.

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