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.

Korean scientists have recently discovered chytrid fungus in introduced bullfrogs in South Korea, although so far, this does not appear to be having an impact on South Korean amphibians. There are thirteen frog and five salamander species in the country, which boats 65 percent of natural forest cover.

Pierre Fidenci, President of Endangered Species International (ESI), talks about the state of amphibians in South Korea in an interview with Mongabay.com, and there is an additional report on The Korean Times web site. In his interview on mongabay.com, Pierre also says:

We put our focus depending on the degree of urgency (not all endangered species have the same degree of extinction, some are much more threatened), our experience and expertise, and the location (we tend to go to places where no other conservation NGOs work). We focus on endangered species found in various types of habitat and serving as protecting umbrella to other endangered species and various wild habitat.

In a similar vein, Amphibian Ark staff have been using an “amphibian species prioritization” process, which is now known as a conservation action planning process  to work with amphibian experts around the world to document their collective knowledge, to produce ordered lists of conservation action required to help save threatened species.

There are about 6,000 species of amphibians on the planet today. By the time we pass on and leave the world in our children’s hands, one-third to one-half of the species will have gone extinct. It’s projected by scientists to be the most significant mass extinction since the dinosaur. Maybe you’ve heard about this. Maybe not. But following is a straightforward accounting of the tectonic changes behind the massive, global disappearance of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians.  The way to act is to read up and help Amphibian Ark at www.amphibianark.org.

Chytrid, the AIDS of amphibiaChytrid is a fungal borne disease that is toxic to 80% of amphibian species. For thousands of years, it was confined to a section of Africa. The African Clawed Frog was one of the lucky 20% of species that was immune to the disease. But when the medical industry discovered African Clawed Frogs could be used as an ingenious pregnancy test for humans, they shipped the frogs out of Africa to all parts of the world. The species carried the Chytrid fungus with it, and the disease exploded. Most recently it has decimated the chicken frog population of Montserrat, and crossed the Panama Canal. Here are links to more information:

Watch for future posts that complete the five reasons:

Habitat destruction –

Pollution –

Global Warming –

Indifference –

Six years ago, promises were made by governments from around the world involving the mass extinctions facing so many animal classes, chief among them the amphibian class. The governments vowed to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2o1o. Well, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) just issued a report that says, in essence, “let’s not kid ourselves, when next year comes around, it’s going to be bleak.”

IUCN, which puts out the Red List of most endangered species, has produced a 150-page report that details the loss of biodiversity earth has experienced over the last 5 years. “Biodiversity continues to decline and next year no one will dispute that,” said the report’s senior editor. “It’s happening everywhere.”

Here’s a link to story I just read about this.  (Click HERE.)

An excerpt from the IUCN Web site:

The report shows nearly one third of amphibians, more than one in eight birds and nearly a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction. For some plant groups, such as conifers and cycads, the situation is even more serious, with 28 percent and 52 percent threatened respectively. For all these groups, habitat destruction, through agriculture, logging and development, is the main threat and occurs worldwide.

In the case of amphibians, the fungal disease chytridiomycosis is seriously affecting an increasing number of species, complicating conservation efforts. For birds, the highest number of threatened species is found in Brazil and Indonesia, but the highest proportion of threatened or extinct birds is found on oceanic islands. Invasive species and hunting are the main threats. For mammals, unsustainable hunting is the greatest threat after habitat loss. This is having a major impact in Asia, where deforestation is also occurring at a very rapid rate.

From the American Airlines in flight magazine, American Way, a full feature on the amphibian crisis. Here’s nice excerpt mentioning Amphibian Ark:

The idea of the Amphibian Ark initiative is to get out in front of the population crashes and to collect healthy frogs, whisk them to safety, and establish breeding stocks — with the hope of reintroducing the species to the wild when the coast is clear. In Australia, scientists have modified shipping containers to create frog “clean rooms” in the field. In the United States, they’ve saved the Wyoming toad in captivity, but it has disappeared from the high plains, and reintroduced populations keep encountering the deadly fungus. Biologists are also rushing to respond as the fungus attacks the boreal toad in Colorado and the red-legged frog in California’s Sierra Nevada. And many more frog rescues are underway in Costa Rica and several other countries.

Full story HERE.

Figuring out the “why”, “how”, “how fast” and “where next” behind the mass extinctions facing amphibian species is what Dr. Karen Lips does for a living. Now with the University of Maryland (previously with Southern Illinois University), Dr. Lips is a forensic ecologist. Cool job description. She has been charting the path of the spread of the killer fungus chytrid, and helping people understand what happens to ecosystems when frogs disappear. Here’s a new story about her work: read HERE. Excerpts I found interesting:

Once chytrid hits a region, the amphibian population can be wiped out within four months.”The rate of spread is about 22 km/year, so we have less than five years before they are all gone,” Lips says, referring to the remaining frog populations in Central America where she has been working as a”forensic ecologist” to predict the spread of chytrid throughout Costa Rica and Panama over the past 10 years.

“Once amphibians are eliminated from an ecosystem, everything else changes,” she explains. “Snakes disappear, algae grows, sediments accumulate and affect water quality, we don’t know yet how many of these changes are irrevocable.”

Thank goodness for the scientists who clang the bell — who leverage the drama to wake us up to what’s happening to the planet. Without them, the only endangered species we’d know about would be banks.

Most scientists, from what I can tell, are a reserved group of people — at least when talking about their area of study to regular people like me. They have hypotheses that predict a very different future for our planet. But they are usually very cautious about becoming a crusader for their prediction unless they are 100% certain that they will be proved right.

That doesn’t describe all of them, of course; some scientists clang the bell to get us to pay attention, hopefully convincing us to change our behaviors.

Enough scientists have written and talked about the crisis facing amphibians that they prompted me to create this blog.Still, I look at the traffic that this blog attracts, and it’s certainly not creating a groundswell. Frogmatters gets about 5,000 views a month, holding steady at that marker for the past few months.

I’ve compared the looming mass extinction of amphibians to a plague and to an AIDS virus. I’ve repeated the metaphor that frogs are the canaries in the coal mine at least 20 times.  I’ve written about the chytrid fungus jumping the Panama Canal, and wiping out the chicken frog population of Montserrat.

I’ve tried to highlight the drama of this race to the froggy bottom because if more people are drawn to drama (and we are), then more people will become aware, and then more people will either write checks or call their governments to demand a rescue.

Then I read this quote in The New York Times: “I think a lot of this threashold and tipping point talk is dangerous. If we say we passed thresholds and tipping points today, this will be an excuse for inaction tomorrow.” That’s what Stanford University earth scientist Kenneth Caldeira said in a scholarly debate about using the phrase, “the tipping point,” to describe our climate being on a precipice. Full store HERE.

Using drama as a device to save the planet, and the animals that reside on it, is a double edged sword. What happens if you convince people to listen to your scariest, fact-based prediction — and they don’t respond? What’s left in your bag of tricks then ?

It’s  a very scary thought, but not as scary as how the story will end if we don’t keep trying.

Keep trying.