Chytrid fungus

Just a superb post on the crisis.

Enjoy the U.S. holiday weekend, and if you’re new to this topic, spend 15 minutes here and you’ll be mostly up to speed on the amphibian crisis.

Just discovered an actual blog entry from an actual attendee of the Tempe chytrid fungus conference.

Jeff Corwin was huge today for Amphibian Ark. On “Ellen” this afternoon, he showed a Panama Golden Frog — extinct in the wild, but brought to the show courtesy of the St. Louis Zoo — and explained how chytrid fungus is killing off amphibian species.  He encouraged viewers to go to (yes, he spelled out the url!) to learn how to help.  He offered to let Ellen hold the toad, but she said she didn’t want to be responsible for losing “the last frog.” A “golden” moment for the cause. 

Is global warming rendering frogs defenseless against chytrid? Here’s a story about UK researchers who are looking for the answer by studying sun bathing tree frogs inCosta Rica. An excerpt:

“The Manchester team’s hypothesis is that global warming is leading to more cloud cover in the frogs’ natural habitat. They believe this is denying them the opportunity to ‘sunbathe’ and kill off fatal Chytrid fungal infections, leading to many species dying out.”

lips-cr-pma-bd-wave-with-jeff-edits-final.jpgProfessor Lips’ research (see previous post) has included charting the rapid creep of chytrid fungus (AKA Bd) across Central America. Click on image to left for full frame view of the path and how fast it spread. Map courtesy of Professor Lips. I added the little text box and small arrows, just to help quickly grasp the map.

There are, arguably, three great questions about the amphibian crisis. The good news is that all are being researched.

  1. How can we slow down, even neutralize, the ravage of species caused by amphibian chytrid fungus? This naturally occurring fungus broke out of Africa 60-or-so years ago on the backs and littled webbed feet of the African Clawed Frog which was being exported as a human pregnancy test. It’s lethal to most species it contacts, resulting in a thinning of frog families to the  point that the few remaining males and females can’t find each other to mate.
  2. What is the cause-and-effect of global warming on this mass extinction? If chytrid is the cryptonite to frogs, are warmer temperatures a steroid shot for chytrid? Or, are amphibians just getting worn out by the heat and, in such a weakened state, more susceptible to all sorts of diseases and enemies?
  3. What happens to ecosystems when amphibians disappear because of #1 and #2? In other words, what is the role of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians in the food web? When you remove them from an acre of rainforest, or a bubbling brook, what happens to the populations of insects, fish, snakes, lizards, birds. What happens to plant life? Answer this, definitively, and just watch the funds for Amphibian Ark and the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan roll in from foundations and companies that care about general conservation and hunting and fishing. 

(The effects of pollution is probably the fourth big question, I know, but so much has already been figured out about that.)

Let me introduce the research team (the only team?) that is studying The Big Three Questions. The team is led by Karen Lips, an associate professor in the Department of Zoology at Southern Illinois University (SIU Carbondale). She charted the path that chytrid has cut through Central America and presented her insights about the fungus at the recently convened chytrid conference in Tempe, Arizona.  Next summer the team resumes studying climate change impacts, and they’ll even safely remove amphibian species from small ecosystems to chronicle what happens to the food web. Here’s her Web page that toplines some of her research

(Pass this along, please...) It’s a simple idea: Make this a “hop til you drop” holiday shopping season, and set aside a small portion of your spending for a green gift to save frogs and other amphibians that, otherwise, are hopping toward the most significant mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Last month, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported that:

“Species are becoming extinct a hundred times faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 percent of amphibians, 23 percent of mammals and 12 percent of birds are threatened.”

The good news is, there is a logical, relatively simple plan to avert the amphibian extinction crisis. It’s called Amphibian Ark. More about that in a second.

Let’s say you’re that mythical, average person who told National Retail Federation pollsters that you plan to spend $923 on gifts this season.  A gift of only $50 to a wildlife cause represents just 5 percent of that amount. (Honestly, would you really miss it all that much?) If 2,000 people did that — let’s see, that’s one of every 151,500 people who live in the United States — it would raise $100,000, or enough to save a species like the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog of California.

Amphibian Ark brings the most threatened amphibian species into “protective custody” before they disappear due to loss of habitat, pollution, and even an “amphibian chytrid fungus” that’s spreading across the planet, possibly exacerbated by global warming (Kermit’s right: it’s not easy being green). Amphibian Ark puts the species in dedicated, biosecure facilities at zoos, aquariums, and other institutions around the world for safekeeping and breeding. These rescued amphibians will be reintroduced into the wild when the original threats have been controlled.

Amphibian Ark is a joint effort of three credible, proven conservation organizations – the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), and the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG).

If you’re ready to hop til you drop before you shop til you drop, you can make a donation at this Web site: But if for whatever reason frogs or salamanders aren’t your scene, do some research and give to a wildlife organization that’s making a difference.

Here’s NBC story, with video, on chytrid fungus summit held in Tempe, Arizona USA earlier this week.

(Also, map of Chytrid’s path in Central America here.)

By now, if you read this blog, you’re well aware of what the chytrid fungus is, and does. If not, watch this TBS video, or click here for a basic article. The crisis has drawn a who’s who list of amphibian specialists and scientists to this week’s global summit in Tempe, Arizona, USA. The conference is titled “Amphibian Decline and Chytridiomycosis: Translating Science into Urgent Action.” They’re now in the third day of the agenda as of this updated posting. Among the 200 or so attending:


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