Chytrid fungus


Mongabay.com just posted a powerful update on the chytrid fungus’ connection to global warming, but what I find most interesting is how Mr. Butler summarizes the amphibian crisis. This is a great primer as well as refresher course:

“The Global Amphibian Assessment reports that nearly one third of all species (32%) are threatened, with 42% having declined since the 1980s. As many as 165 species are thought to have become extinct during the past thirty years. Calculations comparing current extinction rates of amphibians to background, or normal, extinction rates have yielded a current rate that is 211 times larger than background rates. When endangered species are included in the calculation, the result is expanded to 25,039–45,474 times that of background extinction rates.

“Amphibian declines have grown so severe that in February 16th, 2007, scientists from all over the world met in Atlanta, GA, to form the Amphibian Ark, a group dedicated to the preservation of more than 6,000 species of frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians (a group of subterrestrial wormlike amphibians). Their aim is mainly concerned with implementing captive breeding programs to safeguard the most threatened species.

“Along with providing a vital loss to biodiversity, amphibian declines foreshadow problems that other organisms may experience in the future. Amphibians are an important “index” group; the health of individual species serves as a powerful indicator of the health of an entire ecosystem. Scientists believe that what is happening to amphibians now will someday happen to other organisms, including humans.”

You learn something every day. I didn’t know that the Great Smoky Mountains in the U.S. are regarded by many to be the salamander capital of the world. No wonder the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources agency are concerned, to say the least, about the spread of chytrid and pressures on amphibian species in the state. Full story from Chattanooga Times Free Press is here. Key excerpts:

The fungus has been documented in Tennessee salamanders, but not yet in frogs, though surveyors have found the fungus in frogs in Georgia within the last year…

Pandy English, a wildlife diversity coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said frogs and salamanders are the new “canaries in the coal mine.” “They are bioindicators,” she said. “If they are dying off then there could be toxins or other things going on that we need to know about.” 

Tennessee’s 56 species of salamanders, a close cousin to the frog, “are in a way really more of a concern than the frogs because we have many species that are found nowhere else in the world,” said herpetologist Lisa Powers, owner and operator of Frog Haven Farm near Nashville.

Contrary to the report, though, the source of chytrid fungus really isn’t a mystery. It’s indigenous to southern Africa and was accidentally exported around the world in the mid 1900s. Here’s previous post on that.

So you will be one of the 90 million+ next Sunday who watch the Super Bowl played in Glendale, Arizona — the first ever “green” football championship. (Story: “Super Bowl XLII at University of Stadium in Glendale will be powered completely with renewable energy. Solar, wind and geo-thermal energy will offset greenhouse gas emissions.”)

Don’t just cram your brain with trivia about the Patriots and the Giants. Get in the zone of Arizona biodiversity with this “Super Croak” amphibian quiz (answers at bottom): 

  1. What is the official Arizona state amphibian?
  2. This frog species was exported from Africa in the mid 1900s,  carrying with it the amphibian chytrid fungus that is devasating to 80 percent of amphibian species it touches. In the U.S., it has established long-term, reproducing populations in Arizona and California. What’s the name of this species?
  3. What species has a call that sounds like “Walk! Walk!” and hatches directly from eggs with no aquatic larval stage?
  4. This species makes a call that sounds like bleeting sheep, and if it can gorge for just a few nights on termites, it can survive and breed for a whole year. What’s the species?
  5. What is Arizona’s only salamander species and is endangered?

By the way, 92 million people watched the Super Bowl last year. If that many people each gave 50 cents to Amphibian Ark for the emergency rescue and breeding programs of the most endangered species, Amphibian Ark would be more than 90 percent fully funded.

Answers: 1) Arizona Tree Frog; 2) African Clawed Frog; 3) Barking Frog; 4) Couch’s Spadefoot; 5) Tiger Salamander.

Al Gore said this earlier today at in the World Economic Forum in Davos: “All future generations will at some point look back and make an assessment of whether we succeeded or failed.” He (with Bono) was talking about global warming and poverty. But within the big topic of climate change are many subplots; what global warming is doing to the animal kingdom is one of them.

Warmer temperatures are weakening the animal kingdom, not just for polar bears, but for amphibians who are withering amid a toxic fungus that may be spreading into more and more habitat, fueled by the heat.  The fungus is called chytrid. This is what Kathy Krynak, who manages the amphibian exhibit at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, recently said about the connection between chytrid and global warming: 

“Amphibians that live in mountain regions and particularly the humid tropics are having a really hard time because as you increase the elevation, climate change is much more dramatic there. The nighttime temperatures in the areas where chytrid thrives are getting warmer so it’s 24 hours a day of a chytrid hotbed in the humid tropics.”

One-third to one-half of amphibian species could go extinct in our lifetime. There are some 6,000 species of amphibians, so you do the math. If the mass extinction isn’t stopped, it will be the most significant since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

We have the knowledge to stop it. There’s a common sense plan called Amphibian Ark to avert it. But to paraphrase something that Al Gore said on Jan. 24, 2008, will future generations look back and say we succeeded or failed in saving the amphibian?  

Bravo! to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) for a compelling new focus on the amphibian crisis. ZSL has created a list of the most endangered of the most endangered amphibian species under the auspices of its new program titled, “The EDGE” (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered). Here’s what it’s Web site says:

“EDGE Amphibians is following hot on the heels of EDGE Mammals. Unusual and endangered species like the Chinese giant salamander (the largest amphibian in the world at nearly 2 metres long), the Madagascan mantellas (the independently evolved Malagasy equivalent of the poison dart frogs) and the Mexican burrowing toad (which spends the majority of its life tunneling underground) will soon be displayed in the same format as the EDGE mammals so you can learn about their curious lives and how to protect them from extinction.

“Amphibians are suffering global, catastrophic declines due to habitat destruction, over-collection for the pet trade and food market, disease, climate change and introduced species.  They are some of the most beautiful and enigmatic species on Earth and can tell us a lot about the condition of our environment.”

The news coverage is huge for The EDGE in the UK. There’s a BBC slide show of the most endangered species from The EDGE’s list. And here is a (frankly) much superior blog posting.

“They are indicating to us that there is a problem, and if we don’t take care of the problem, it’s going to move up to our level.”  That’s what an amphibian zoo keeper said Monday in a very informative, nearly hour long radio interview about the amphibian crisis on WCPN radio in Cleveland. I typed below a few excerpts from the interview with husband and wife amphibian experts Kathy Krynak, who manages the amphibian exhibit at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Tim Krynak, naturalist with Cleveland Metroparks: 

“One of the biggest (contributors to the mass extinction) is habitat loss (but) within the last ten years we have a new disease that’s entered the arena — that’s the chytrid fungus. It lives on amphibian skin, and amphibians basically breathe through their skin — and once this happens, they suffocate to death.” – Tim Krynak

Climate change is actually the biggest factor across the board globally in the amphibian declines, so anything that you can do to be a little greener, like Kermit says, in your own lives will help amphibians and the planet in general.” – Kathy Krynak

“Amphibians that live in mountain regions and particularly the humid tropics are having a really hard time because as you increase the elevation, climate change is much more dramatic there. The nighttime temperatures in the areas where chytrid thrives are getting warmer so its 24 hours a day of a chytrid hotbed in the humid tropics.” – Kathy

“They are the cold and slimy canaries in the coal mine. Since they have such sensitive skins and they breathe and they drink right through their skins, changes in their environment affect them very quickly.  They are our best vertebrate bio indicators species so they are indicating to us that there is a problem and, if we don’t take care of the problem, it’s going to move up to our level.”

 The story from California says that the mountain yellow-legged frog has disappeared from 90 percent of its habitat and that less than 100 of them exist in the wild. Chytrid fungus has decimated this species, placing it at the top of the list of amphibian species in North America whose survival depends on establishing a captive breeding program — either at zoos or in stand alone biosecure facilities. Now, here’s the kicker: the price tag for doing this for the mountain yellow-legged is, um, $100,000. That’s how much it costs for a nice addition to a house, or a summer home, or minor road repair work.

Amphibian Ark has a plan, in conjunction with zoos, to save the mountain yellow-legged, and I personally have seen two companies come very close to writing a check that would save this species. Why is this so hard?

A big reason is that it’s not about being carbon neutral, which rightfully so is commanding corporations’ attention nowadays. Another reason is that people are only slowing coming around to realizing that the amphibian crisis is for real. The polar bears — we all understand what’s happening to them. But frogs? They’re so little you often can’t see them even when you’re looking for them. 

But watch the first 2 minutes of this video below, which explains why amphibians are so important. Keep watching if you want to understand what’s killing them, and the plan for averting this mass extinction. The speaker is Kevin Zippel, the program officer for Amphibian Ark, and if you keep watching the video long enough you’ll hear him say this: “That’s only $100,000 per species. You can’t get better conservation value for that.”

« Previous PageNext Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers