History of the project, 1980 to 2024

In 1978, Stephen R. Edwards, Executive Director of the Association of Systematics Collections (ASC; now Natural Science Collections Alliance [NSCA]), initiated a program to develop high-quality taxonomic catalogs in response to the needs of CITES (Convention on Trade In Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). Under his direction, the first volume produced was Mammal Species of the World (J.H. Honacki, K.E. Kinman, and J.W. Koeppel, eds., 1982, ASC/Allen Press).

In late 1980, the second of these projects, Amphibian Species of the World, was initiated by Edwards. Living Amphibia was selected largely because Richard G. Zweifel (AMNH) had provided ASC with a listing of the names of currently recognized species and because of availability of on-site expertise at the University of Kansas in the persons of William E. Duellman, Linda Trueb, and their students (including, at the time, Jonathan Campbell, David C. Cannatella, Sushil K. Dutta, Linda S. Ford, Darrel R. Frost, David M. Hillis, and Rafael Joglar). Darrel Frost, then a PhD student of Duellman's, was hired to manage and develop this project as compiler and editor, which was to be a joint effort of him and an international team of collaborators, under the direction of a steering committee of the World Congress of Herpetology. That steering committee was composed of William Duellman (Chair), Robert C. Drewes, Alice G.C. Grandison, Carl Gans, and Marinus Hoogmoed. In June, 1981, this committee (except for M. Hoogmoed who was unable to attend) met with Frost at the annual convention of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) in Corvallis, Oregon, USA, to discuss strategies and appropriate workers to be approached for collaboration. From that meeting followed nearly four years of intensive work by Frost and collaborators (especially Hoogmoed and Grandison), culminating in the publication of Amphibian Species of the World in 1985 (D.R. Frost, ed., Assoc. System. Collect./Allen Press).

Frost was assigned subsequently to develop Turtle and Crocodilian Species of the World. But, in 1986, when Frost opted to return to his graduate studies to complete his PhD, the turtle project was transferred to F. Wayne King (Florida State Museum, University of Florida). (Frost was retained by ASC part-time to oversee the coordination of ongoing catalog projects.) That same year, at the direction of the ASC Board, Stephen R. Edwards moved ASC to Washington, D.C., and left the organization shortly thereafter to become Executive Director of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Gland, Switzerland. A year later, in 1987, Amphibian Species of the World was adopted by the Parties of CITES at the Ottawa meeting as the official classification for purposes of CITES regulation. Subsequent to publication of the volume, to assure continuity of updating while Frost was finishing his PhD, at the direction of ASC a committee was formed by the World Congress of Herpetology, chaired by William E. Duellman (committee members: L.J. Borkin, U. Caramaschi, A. Dubois, M.H. Hoogmoed, R. Laurent, J.L. Perret, J.C. Poyton, J.M. Savage, M.J. Tyler, and E. Zhao, and R.G. Zweifel). Results of Frost's and this committee's efforts were included in a summary of addenda and corrigenda published independently of the World Congress of Herpetology, ASC, Frost, or the Herpetologists' League and, unsurprisingly, under the sole authorship of W.E. Duellman (1993, Spec. Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist. Univ. Kansas, 21), and subsequently adopted by CITES.

Subsequent to Edwards' relocation in 1987 to Switzerland (IUCN), the Association of Systematics Collections acquired a new direction mandated by the ASC Board. (Given the NSF's increasing lack of interest in collection care from that point on, this can be considered the beginning of the end of ASC as a relevant organization and it now exists as the Natural Science Alliance within the American Institute of Biological Sciences, in Washington, DC, mostly a lobbying group.) No new catalogs were to be developed within the ASC structure. Therefore, in 1989 the copyright for Mammal Species of the World (1982) was transferred by ASC to the American Society of Mammalogists and the copyright for Amphibian Species of the World (1985) was transferred to the Herpetologists' League, which formed a Checklist Committee (R.W. McDiarmid, Chair, D.R. Frost, and J.M. Savage) to coordinate development of these catalogues. Following Frost's appointment as a curator in 1990 at the American Museum of Natural History, Frost reassumed the development of the amphibian catalogue into something more useful for professional herpetologists than the original volume. Since that time the catalogue has changed substantially, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Frost completed synonymies (including the literature source of the synonymy) which did not exist in the original volume (or, for the most part, elsewhere), reformatted all records, added amphibian species described since 1985, made extensive corrections, added English names, and enormously expanded citations to and abstracts of relevant taxonomic literature, as well as (not shown on web site) formulated a complete bibliography (currently [Aug 2023] containing over 17848 references with cross-indices to taxa referenced) so that publication citations and dates can be easily corrected and standardized. There is now little similarity between the 1985 work and what exists in 2023 other than they both address amphibian taxonomy.

This online catalogue is a work in progress. It cannot be complete because our understanding of amphibian biodiversity is ever-changing and deficient (particularly in tropical Asia and the adjacent Papuan region). Nevertheless, it is useful for professionals both to provide needed information for research and conservation needs and to help illuminate where geographical data or taxonomic information are woefully inadequate. As the end of the project comes more and more into view it is clear that the effort needed to apprehend each bit of data becomes increasing difficult to obtain. Indeed, just keeping up with new descriptions and revisions requires considerable work, especially when one realizes that 53.7% of the amphibian species recognized in 2023 (8674 species, version 6.2 [August 2023]) were not recognized 38 years earlier, in 1985 (4014 species). For this reason, I conclude that treating this as a continuing work is the only reasonable position to take.

In 2005 at a IUCN assessment meeting for Mexico at Chamela, Jalisco, Simon Stuart, then Chair of the Species Survival Commission asked me if I would be willing to start incorporating more of the range-extension literature in that this was difficult for IUCN to track. I agreed and from that point on, I've tried to include more of that literature. That doesn't mean that I'm going to include all county range extensions but will cite all range extensions that in my view are important to understanding the range of any particular species. 

In April 2019, the online catalogue surpassed 8000 species, roughly 10 times as many species as known to Boulenger (1884). The irony, of course, is that while roughly 150 species are named each year we are probably losing more than that to extinction due to the plague of chytrid fungus, habitat loss, and climate change, a tragedy beyond measure. Moreover, ASW gets more than 1,200,000 page views per year (about 3300/day, 2023 data) and is integral to the international effort to understand amphibian evolution, amphibian species, and their conservation. 

Fortunately for this information resource, it is now supported by the the American Museum of Natural History (specifically the Digital Technology section of Communications), which takes public outreach, scientific support, conservation, and education a lot more seriously than do most funding organizations.