Frog plague worse than scientists originally thought

Dead frogs killed from the amphibian chytrid fungus. Photo: Joel Sartore/NatGeo

In the early 1990s, researchers linked the mass die-offs of frogs around the world to a fungus they named Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd for short. The fungus ravages frogs’ skin and makes it peel off–which for amphibians, their skin is critical to their survival. Now, as NatGeo recently reported, “a global team of 41 scientists has announced that the pathogen—which humans unwittingly spread around the world—has damaged global biodiversity more than any other disease ever recorded.” The fungus has led to the decline of at least 501 amphibian species over the past half-century, including 90 presumed extinctions.

There was lots of nuance in the new study which was published in Science Magazine and as the New York Times explained:

  • The new study showed that some amphibians are at greater risk than others. The fungus thrives in cool, moist conditions. As a result, frogs that live in cloud forests on mountainsides have been hit particularly hard.
  • Big frogs are at a greater risk, too, possibly because they don’t multiply as quickly as small ones.
  • Certain factors once thought to account for the decimation of frog populations — like climate change and deforestation — are not the greatest threats, the scientists found
  • Bd wiped out some species long before it was discovered. Only by going back to museum specimens were scientists able to estimate the toll.
  • The decimation of frogs peaked in the 1980s, the researchers found, a decade before the discovery of Bd. Today, 39 percent of the species that suffered population declines in the past are still declining. Twelve percent are showing signs of recovery, possibly because natural selection is favoring resistant animals.

Why This Matters: Frogs and other amphibians affected by Bd are critical to the food webs and their home environments, if they’re wiped out then that could have serious consequences for other animals. In addition to being an indicator species and controlling insects, frogs also save human lives through medicine and we simply can’t afford to lose them. While scientists have found ways to eradicate Bd in some frog populations, at present, wild populations can’t be cured on a global scale. Public policy, namely restricting the trade of amphibians, can help slow the spread of the deadly fungus and give scientists time for further research and means to suppress its spread.

Up Next

Australia’s Koalas May Hit Endangered List

Australia’s Koalas May Hit Endangered List

Australia’s iconic marsupial, the koala, may make it onto the country’s list of endangered species, particularly on Australia’s east coast, according to the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley. Koalas are listed as a vulnerable species in New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, and the ACT, but could soon join the list of Australia’s 40 other […]

Continue Reading 436 words
Klamath River Dams Will be Demolished to Save the Salmon

Klamath River Dams Will be Demolished to Save the Salmon

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Hundreds of thousands of California’s salmon are dying in a parasite epidemic. To save them, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authorized the demolition of four hydroelectric dams on the California-Oregon border. The project is the largest of its kind ever embarked on in the U.S. and is expected to begin in […]

Continue Reading 552 words
DNA Could Help Reunite Orphaned Elephant With Herd

DNA Could Help Reunite Orphaned Elephant With Herd

Experts are one step closer to confirming the family herd of an orphaned elephant in West Africa after DNA analysis provided crucial information showing family members could be close by.    The elephant, named Nania, was rescued by local community members when she was just three months old. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was […]

Continue Reading 525 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.