Conservationists Explore New Approaches to Saving Amphibians from Chytrid Fungus

Chytrid fungus has contributed to the decline of amphibian species worldwide, but novel approaches could help prevent the extinction of many threatenes species.

Amphibians are an incredibly diverse group with over 6,600 described species worldwide. Unfortunately, in recent decades, many of these beloved species are vanishing. Over 100 species have been driven to extinction and more than 500 other amphibian species are declining rapidly. One of the leading causes of this decline is a chytrid fungal pathogen called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which causes chytridiomycosis; an infectious disease that causes skin flaking, lethargy, and eventual death. 

A Poison Dart Frog. Credit: Pat O’Malley

Researchers have been aware of this pathogen for over 20 years, but have only recently begun to understand the severity of B. dendrobatidis. One of the leading threats to wildlife among other common invaders such as invasive rodents and feral cats. Research has found that amphibian losses that have occurred as a result of B. dendrobatidis represent the greatest documented loss of biodiversity from a pathogen in history. 

There is a myriad of risk factors to consider that make it more likely for an amphibian species to contract chytridiomycosis. Crucial among them, proximity to and time spent in water which is vital for at least a portion of all amphibian life cycles. The body size of an organism also plays a role; amphibians with larger body sizes require more time and reproductive investment to reach maturity leaving populations more suseptible to threats. As a result, larger amphibian species won’t rebound as quickly or easily if their population is hit by the pathogen. 

A Glass Frog. Credit: Santiago Ron

Despite all of this, there is still hope. Recently published research is showing promising results in using pool salt (sodium chloride) in aquatic areas to reduce transmission of the disease. Preliminary research has seen a 70% increase in survival in the areas where this method has been used! Dr. Clulow, the head of the research team who has made this discovery, is currently continuing his research in utilizing this method in Ecuador. Conservationists have also recently released 1,000 captive-bred eggs of the Southern Corroboree Frog back into the wild; a species gravely impacted by chytrid fungus.  

As research continues and conservationists begin to develop ways to prevent the spread of Chytrid fungus the future is still hopeful for the more than 500 threatened amphibian species. 

Source: Forbes
Featured Photo: A Red-eyed Tree Frog. Credit: Doug Greenberg

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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