Can we stop the relentless spread of Bd, the infamous frog-killing-fungus?

It is odd that we have so little relationship with nature, with the insects and the leaping frog and the owl that hoots among the hills calling for its mate. We never seem to have a feeling for all living things on the earth.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Early this month an article in National Geographic prompted me to re-publish one of my first posts about the amphibian extinction crisis.  The article titled Ground Zero of ‘Amphibian’ Apocalypse Finally Found summarizes a research article published in Science in early May.  The research article Recent Asian Origin of chytrid fungi causing global amphibian declines, explains that samples from the Korean peninsula showed greater genetic diversity than any other Bd site on Earth, confirming earlier suspicions that the region Bd’s ground zero. In my post which you can read in its entirety below, I mention that one of the main culprits of this ‘apocalyptical’ crisis that has wiped out entire species of amphibians from this planet is the spread of the chytrid fungus Batrachchytrium dendreobatidis, also known as Bd.

Blue Poison Dart Frog
Blue Poison Dart Frog

This pathogen has devastated entire amphibian populations around the world since the 1970’s, it has spread to the Americas, Africa, Europe and Oceania. In fact, in just 4 years (2004-2008) one region in Panama lost 41 percent of its amphibian species to the fungus.
So how did this happen? If you say humans, you guessed right. Researchers think human activity spread the infection worldwide because of the global expansion of the amphibian trade to feed the meat and pet industries.
Unfortunately, despite international trade guidelines, it’s clear that the global pet trade continues to spread Bd.
What scares scientist the most is the threat of Bd hybrid strains (the mingling and mixing of once-separated lineages of fungi) that could turn more virulent and unstoppable.

According to Mat Fisher, an Imperial College London mycologist who studies fungus “This is the worst pathogen in the history of the world, as far as we can tell, in terms of its impacts on biodiversity.”

The study concludes that only the continued strengthening of transcontinental biosecurity is critical to the survival of amphibian species in the wild. In laymen words, the international trade guidelines need to be strengthened and enforced to stop this devastation.

Green frogs (Rana clamitans) are native only to the Nearctic region. They are found in the United States and Canada from Maine and the Maritime provinces of Canada through the Great Lakes region and into western Ontario and Oklahoma, south to eastern Texas, east into northern Florida and extending up the entire east coast of the United States

Should We Let Frogs Go Extinct?

“And what is there to life, if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?”

– Chief Seattle, 1854

Extinction is real, and it is an important part of the natural history of our planet. Amphibians naturally go extinct at a rate of only about one species every 250 years, but in the last 32 years we have lost approximately 200 species of frogs already, and that is not normal.
Their problems began with us of course; habitat loss due to human overpopulation, pollution, invasive species brought by humans from other regions, climate change and over-harvesting for the pet and food trade markets has contributed to the diminishing numbers of these animals.  However now, a fungus called chytrid has been identified as the major culprit, and so far the spread of the fungus can’t be stopped.

Fowler's toad
Fowler’s toad is a species of toad in the family Bufonidae. The species is native to North America, where it occurs in much of the eastern United States and parts of adjacent Canada

Chytrid continues to move quickly, extinguishing entire frog populations. Lakes and ponds that once thrived with calling frogs are now silent.
We are so busy living in our own little world, overwhelmed by so much over-communication, that we don’t pay attention to the rest of living organisms that share this planet with us. They are all important, and the disappearance of a whole class of animals will have an enormous impact on our planet’s ecosystem.
Frogs, for instance, have been around for almost 300 million years if not more. We are so used to see them jumping, swimming, walking in the middle of the highway that we take them for granted. They sit right in the middle of the food chain, and if they go extinct, other creatures will disappear too. In fact, recent discoveries are shocking: more than a third of all amphibians, most of which are frogs and toads,  have already been lost, and more are disappearing every day.  It is a global environmental crisis that seems unstoppable.
In response to these dramatic events, scientists and wildlife conservation organizations have taken drastic measures to counteract it, such as evacuating frogs from the wild to shelter them in sterile environments; caught early enough many of these animals can be cured. Unfortunately, they have not been able to stop the spread of the infection.

Panamanian Golden Frog
The Panamanian golden frog’s conservation status is critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There has been a drastic decline in population and they may be functionally extinct in the wild.

Although the work that is being done is amazing, the rate of extinction is alarmingly faster than finding answers on how to stop and prevent the spread of the infection. I encourage everyone that cares about the well being of our planet and is interested in helping, to visit and support organizations like Save the Frogs and the Amphibian Ark dedicated to the survival of this wonderful creatures.

Important facts about this crisis

  • Amphibians are indicators of environmental health and their contribution to humanity. Read this article to understand why?
  • There is an Amphibian Conservation Plan in place thanks to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • 30% (1,895): of 6,285 amphibian species assessed by the IUCN, are threatened with extinction. 6% (382) known to be Near Threatened and 25% (1,597) are Data Deficient; ~3,900 species are in trouble
  • About 200 frog extinctions have occurred and hundreds more will be lost over the next century
  • At least another 6.9% of all frog species may be lost within the next century, even if there is no acceleration in the growth of environmental threats
Green frogs (Rana clamitans) are native only to the Nearctic region. They are found in the United States and Canada from Maine and the Maritime provinces of Canada through the Great Lakes region and into western Ontario and Oklahoma, south to eastern Texas, east into northern Florida and extending up the entire east coast of the United States

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