Some interesting news from researchers working in Panama.

Dr. Karen Lips and her team documented the association of disease and the massive decline of amphibians within a protected national park in El Cope, Panama in 2006 (Lips, K. R., Brem, F., Brenes, R., Reeve, J. D., Alford, R. A., Voyles, J., Carey, C., Livo, L., Pessier, A. P. & Collins, J. P. 2006. Emerging infectious disease and the loss of biodiversity in a Neotropical amphibian community. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 103:3165-3170.). Further findings just published by Andrew Crawford, Karen Lips and Eldredge Berminhama in PNAS have shown through DNA barcoding techniques that although 30 species are known to have disappeared from this study site, nearly a dozen more may have disappeared before they were even described to science!

I ran across this recent press on the subject following the publication of their paper and thought I’d share it.

More information on this publication can be found here:

Knowing that habitat loss is the number one threat to amphibians and thinking about how many species we KNOW are lost to habitat loss, it makes me think about how these new data may indicate that even more species lost via destruction of their homes is even higher than we know! Not only are species going missing faster than we discover new ones, the rate is much higher than I would have thought.

Scientists have unravelled the mechanism by which the fungal disease chytridiomycosis kills its victims.

The BBC reports that a group of scientists has published an article in the journal Science that chytrid fungus kills by changing the electrolyte balance of animals, resulting in cardiac arrest. Chytrid, which was discovered in 1998, is one of the major killers of amphibians across the globe, along with habitat destruction and climate change. Curing amphibians in captivity can now be done using antifungal chemicals, but there is currently no way of treating the disease in wild populations.

If scientists can now discover more about how the elctrolyte balance is disrupted, they may also ultimately, discover a way to reduce the mortality rate in wild amphibian populations.

Good perspective to spur people into action on the amphibian crisis from the scientists of a new study, as reported in ScienceDaily:

“An ancient organism, which has survived past extinctions, is telling us that something is wrong right now. We humans may be doing fine right now, but they are doing poorly. The question, really, is whether we’ll listen before it’s too late.”

– Vance T. Vredenburg, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University

Bruce Blumberg, associate professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California at Irvine, has found a possible connection between exposure to industrial pollution and obesity. Stories here and here. Exposing female frogs to mild doses of the pollution — specifically, toxic compounds called obesogens — made them “really fat.” According to the story, they can be found in plastics used in drinking bottles and many other food-bearing materials. Of course, the animal that most greatly experiences the world through its skin —  the amphibian — is what led to this discovery.