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Protecting amphibians from fungus

During a deadly outbreak of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, a group of researchers collected blood samples from infected mountain yellow-legged frogs. The Bd epidemic eventually reduced the size of certain frog populations by 95 percent, but the blood samples helped confirm how the fungus attacks the skin of amphibians, causing fluid and electrolyte imbalances and often leading to death.

Understanding the dynamics of this fungal disease during an outbreak in the wild, as opposed to controlled laboratory experiments, is an important step in finding ways to reduce the devastating effects of this fungus on the world's amphibians, and may potentially aid in the development of treatment options or preventative measures to protect wild populations from the spread of Bd.  

Amphibians rely on their skin to absorb water and nutrients (especially sodium and potassium) from their environments.  Bd causes chytridiomycosis, a disease that infects amphibian skin cells causing changes that thicken the skin. These alterations eliminate the ability to maintain fluid balance, leading to dehydration, cardiac arrest and death.

Although some species appear immune to the fungus, more than 200 species of frogs and salamanders worldwide have succumbed to Bd and other species have experienced rapid population declines. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over 30 percent of the 6,000 recognized amphibian species are at risk of extinction from Bd. Habitat loss is still the primary concern in amphibian conservation, but curbing the spread and the impact of this fungus is also important for the future of the world's amphibians.  

Images (1 of )

  • a mountain yellow-legged frog is affected by the chytrid fungus
  • a radio belt around the waist of an adult female mountain yellow-legged frog tracks its movements
Chytrid fungus affects the mountain yellow-legged frog.
USGS
A radio belt on a female frog's waist tracks its movements.
Vance Vredenburg

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