Deadly Frog Pathogen Could Cause Sixth Mass Extinction

Olive Hawkins
March 30, 2019

An global study led by The Australian National University has found that a fungal disease has caused dramatic population declines worldwide in at least 501 amphibian species, including 90 extinctions, over the past 50 years.

The study's co-author Dr. Claire Foster at the Fenner School of Environment and Society said that the study also collaborated with Professor Frank Pasmans and Dr. Stefano Canessa from the University of Ghent, Belgium as well as 38 more researchers with expertise in amphibian and wildlife disease.

He added that many species were still at high risk of extinction in the next 10-20 years as the disease-related declines continue.

Though present in more than 60 countries, it is most prevalent in Australia, Central America, and South America. Some 90 of these species are presumed to be extinct, while another 124 have dropped in number by more than 90 percent and are unlikely to ever recover. "We've lost some really fantastic species", Scheele, from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU, said.

Researchers say that it is quite likely that the deadly fungus originated from Asia, as numerous region's local amphibians are resilient to it. "We've never before had a single disease that had the power to make multiple species extinct, on multiple continents, all at the same time". According to the study published in the journal Science, the pathogen could be strong enough to eventually lead to the sixth mass extinction event. The hard-to-pronounce condition is responsible for the greatest loss of biodiversity due to a disease, according to the Australian National University (ANU).

A skin-eating fungal disease that is believed to have originated in Asia has led to the extinction of 90 amphibian species around the world in the past 50 years, a study has found.

Chytrid fungus disease, or chytridiomycosis, is caused by the pathogenic fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). However, the disease is fast spreading globally because of how much humans are moving wildlife around to new areas without realizing that in doing so, they are also introducing pathogens to new environments.

Representative Image
Representative Image

It kills amphibians by destroying their skin, damaging their immune systems and even causing heart failure.

Bd has been blamed for wiping out hundreds of species of amphibians in total and is said to threaten one third of the world's frogs and salamanders. "Knowing what species are at risk can help target future research to develop conservation actions to prevent extinctions".

The scientists say globalisation and the wildlife trade are the main causes of this global pandemic and are enabling the spread of the disease.

Dr. Scheele said improved biosecurity and wildlife trade regulation was urgently needed to prevent any more extinctions around the world.

He said severe declines of species because of the disease began from the mid-1980s and have continued to today at a global scale.

"It's really hard to remove chytrid fungus from an ecosystem", Scheele said.

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