2001 Michael Lannoo

Michael Lannoo with a newly metamorphosed leopard frog. Photo courtesy M. Lannoo

Whether as author, university professor, muddied researcher in a marsh, featured Discovery.com expert talking with kids about amphibian declines, or opponent in the political arena with Minnesota Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's plan to drop funding for most deformed frog research, Dr. Michael "The Thinker" Lannoo loses no opportunity to go to the mat for amphibians.

Dr. Michael Lannoo is a major figure in the amphibian decline investigations being conducted in the Midwest and the nation. His involvement is unique because he is active in both the scientific as well as the public education aspects of these issues. Areas of primary concern to Lannoo include amphibian malformations, environmental quality, and public lands resource management. In addition, Lannoo is the conscience and organizational wizard of the U.S. declining amphibian population study cadre.


Malformed northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). Photo by Michael RedmerAmphibian declines have concerned field biologists for the past decade and a half. Scientific research suggests that potential causes for these declines include habitat destruction or alteration, pesticide applications, ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation, global warming, disease outbreaks, introduced species, commercial harvesting and landscape modifications. 

A newer concern is the increased incidence of amphibian malformations. Although amphibians with malformations have been reported for centuries, the number of locations where malformed amphibians occur, the percentage of individual animals with malformations, and the severity of these malformations have all been increasing.

Lannoo was the impetus behind the growth and success of the Central Division (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Iowa) of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF) before becoming U.S. coordinator of DAPTF, which consists of approximately 1,200 biologists. DAPTF’s mission is "To determine the nature, extent and causes of declines in amphibians throughout the world, and to promote means by which the declines can be halted or reversed." Lannoo’s leadership of the Central Division included the successful editing and publication of the bookStatus and Conservation of Midwestern Amphibians (1998).

Author of Okoboji Wetlands: A Lesson in Natural History (1996), Lannoo also is featured in William Souder's A Plague of Frogs (2000). In his role as U.S. coordinator of the DAPTF, and along with graduate students Priya Nanjappa and Laura Leininger Blackburn, Lannoo is spearheading the upcoming publication of the Status and Conservation of U.S. Amphibians. Already completed and available to researchers is the monumentalStatus and Conservation of U.S. Amphibiansdistribution maps website.

This issue is of interest to the public because amphibians may serve as bioindicators - species warning of environmental problems that could translate into risks to human health. According to Lannoo, there are several causes for amphibian malformations, most of which can be tied to environmental degradation from xenobiotic chemicals, including pesticides and fertilizers.

Lannoo in Antarctica. Photo courtesy of M.LannooIn addition to his declining amphibian contributions, Dr. Lannoo has both tropical and polar field experience in what he describes as his "day job" as a comparative neurobiologist. His research in this field focuses on the nervous and sensory systems of American weaklyelectric fishes (with Dr. James Albert, University of Florida) and Antarctic ice fishes (with Dr. Joe Eastman, Ohio University). This research led to a recent trip to Antarctica, where, for a change, there are no amphibians about which to worry.