"As Fatal Fungus Takes Its Toll, Can We Save Frog Species on the Brink?"

"The deadly chytrid fungus has wiped out as many as 90 species of amphibians. Now researchers from Australia to California are exploring a host of ways to save threatened frog populations — from relocation to safer habitats to reintroducing frogs treated with a sort of vaccine."

"Scattered across one zoo and two sanctuaries in Australia, a couple of thousand northern corroboree frogs wait for science to advance. The captive-bred frogs — critically endangered — fill an important role: As long as they survive, their species won’t go extinct. “It’s an insurance population,” says Ben Scheele, a wildlife ecologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. “We’re buying time.”

The northern corroboree frog, native to Australia, almost vanished in the 1990s, declining along with other frog species around the world. In 1998, researchers identified the culprit as a type of chytrid fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), considered today by many experts to be the most lethal wildlife pathogen in recorded history. The fungus has infected more than 500 species of amphibians, mainly in the Americas and Australia, and wiped out as many as 90 species. Often when a pathogen kills off its host species, it dooms itself to the same fate. But because Bd can infect so many different species, disease ecologists say that it’s unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Now, decades after the initial die-offs, scientists from Australia to Panama are taking stock of the survivors and asking how captive-bred frogs could be safely reintroduced to the wild. While a global solution remains out of reach, researchers are focusing on more targeted efforts that have the potential to help small populations recover. Possible solutions include everything from treating frogs with a sort of vaccine, to relocating them to Bd-inhospitable habitats, to setting up frog refugia — tiny tents over clay bricks where higher temperatures can kill the fungus the frogs carry."

Anna Gibbs reports for Yale Environment 360 February 21, 2023.

Source: YaleE360, 02/27/2023