Neonicotinoids are known for having catastrophic effects on bees and have been banned overseas. Now, researchers are worried native frogs could be the next victim of the widely used insecticide in Australia.
The water-soluble insecticide is common in pest control and agricultural products, but has been proven to adversely affect some insects’ nervous systems.
The European Union banned its outdoor use in 2018, but the insecticide is still widely used in Australia.
The president of Frog Safe, Deborah Pergolotti, runs a frog hospital in Mission Beach, south of Cairns.
During the past 20 years as a frog carer, Ms Pergolotti said she had witnessed an increase in cancer rates in the amphibians, and that more research was urgently needed on whether insecticides might be playing a role.
“There’ll need to be more public pressure on the [federal] government to get them to start looking at these issues,” Ms Pergolotti said.
Research from the University of Saskatchewan has revealed imidacloprid — a type of neonicotinoid — can cause weight loss in a songbird, while a study published in the journal Science found it also impacted feeding in bees.
But any potential impact on frogs was less known because experiments were limited.
James Cook University Emeritus Professor of Tropical Ecology Ross Alfred said while neonicotinoids were generally thought to be safe for vertebrates, there had been minimal targeted research into the long-term impacts for amphibians.
“There are some tests that suggest that they can damage DNA at high levels,” Professor Alfred said.
“Anything that damages DNA is a worry, of course.
However to his knowledge, that was the extent of resarch findings so far.
Professor Alfred said habitat modification was one of the biggest threats to frog populations, but the impact of chemicals such as neonicotinoids needed more research.
A study from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in 2018 found frogs exposed to the insecticide had a slower response time to a predator’s aerial attack — assumed to be a result of effects on perception or cognition of risk.
Meanwhile, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) began a review into neonicotinoids in 2019 to consider new scientific information and ensure safety instructions met contemporary standards.
The authority said its proposed regulatory decision was expected in mid-2022.
“The APVMA continues to monitor all available evidence and credible scientific reports as they become available, to ensure the continued protection of the health and safety of people, animals and the environment,” it said in a statement.
Professor Alfred said frogs were an indicator of an aquatic ecosystem’s health, so their importance should not be underestimated.
“They breathe largely through their skin,” he said.
“Their skin is porous. If they get in contact with chemicals, they end up in their bodies.
Frog carer Deborah Pergolotti said the ecosystem in her region remained at risk unless more research was carried out.
“Frog eggs, tadpoles and frogs are an important part of the food chain,” she said.
“If you remove them from the system, you’ve got cascading effects up the line.”
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