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The frogs of Puerto Rico have a warning for us

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Bocaítos, Puerto Rico | 0 comments

Vox’s Benji Jones recently visited Puerto Rico and spoke to scientists exploring bioacoustic science and what it can tell us about healthy ecosystems. In the sounds of frogs, they’re discovering the effects of climate change on life. 

In much of the world, nature sounds like birds or maybe insects — the cheerful, rhythmic cheeps of a robin, say, or the buzz of a cicada.

In Puerto Rico, it sounds like frogs. Lots and lots of frogs.

If you walk into pretty much any forest on the island you’ll hear a loud, almost deafening chorus of amphibians. The lead singer is the common coqui, a tannish treefrog with big, sticky toes. They are Puerto Rican icons no larger than a ping-pong ball that call — CO-KEE, CO-KEE — to attract mates and mark their territory.

Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island and US territory, is home to more than 15 native species of frogs. And these animals have a lot to say. The number and diversity of frogs, and their collective voice, can indicate the health of an ecosystem. Frogs, like other amphibians, tend to be sensitive to subtle changes in climate and water quality, making them reliable environmental sensors, according to Marconi Campos-Cerqueira, an ecologist.

When lots of frogs are singing, it’s a sign that the forest is healthy. A quiet forest is cause for concern.

Scientists are increasingly listening to their calls. In the last two decades, a large number of researchers have turned to bioacoustics, the study of all kinds of animal sounds, to monitor the health of the environment. It’s pretty simple: They place a few mics in the forest to gather sound, and then run the data they retrieve through computer software. That software reveals what animal species are there, and when.

For years now, scientists in Puerto Rico have been using bioacoustics to monitor environmental changes. By listening to the sounds of frogs, they’re figuring out how climate change — and the storms and heat waves that come with it — is altering life on the island.

Our style guide and overall principles compel us to correct something: Puerto Rico is not an island, but an archipelago, which is an important distinction. That said, the article is a fascinating dive into the meaning behind the sounds of the coquí.



William-Jose Velez Gonzalez

William-Jose Velez Gonzalez

William-José Vélez González is a native from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and a graduate from Florida International University in biomedical engineering, engineering management, and international relations. A designer with a strong interest in science, policy, and innovation, he previously served as the national executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association. William-José lives in Washington, DC, where he works at the Children's National Research Institute and runs Opsin, a nonprofit design studio dedicated to making design more accessible. You can see him on Love is Blind as Lydia's brother. He is the founder and Editor in Chief of Pasquines.


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