Cybersummit on Deformed Frogs

You've probably seen the pitiful photos of frogs with legs sticking out of their backs--born malformed, say some researchers, because of pollution. Now's your chance to leap into an open discussion on the misshapen critters. Starting 14 November, a conference on the World Wide Web--the first of its kind--will critique data on this environmental horror show as well as discuss the broader trend of amphibian decline in North America.

The conference, open to the public, will feature 40 to 50 papers on everything from the dwindling population of western boreal toads in the Rocky Mountains to the alarming numbers of abnormal frogs in the Midwest. The discussion will focus on potential factors behind the amphibians' plight--such as habitat loss and increased ultraviolet radiation due to the thinning ozone layer--and better ways to monitor individual species. But the crippled frogs promise to spark the most intense debate. "The subject of deformed frogs is a real bell-ringer these days," says Sam Droege, a biologist at the federal Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, which is spearheading the conference.

The cybermeeting, set to last 3 months, will allow scientists and other observers to query paper authors in a moderated posted discussion. The organizers don't know how many people plan to attend the free-of-charge conference. However, says Droege, "it's safe to say that this will be the best attended amphibian meeting in the world."