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Deadly Fungus Threatens Amphibians

August 27, 2009

The world’s leading amphibian experts have come together and for the first time identified two major conservation initiatives to protect the amphibians of the world from becoming extinct.

The new coalition of organizations, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, will work together on scientific research and fund-raising to focus on containing the spread of the amphibian chytrid fungus and protecting the only amphibian habitats that contain amphibians that are not found anywhere else in the world.

Currently, approximately one-third of amphibian species are threatened with extinction.

Destruction of habitat and the fungal disease chytridiomycosis were identified as the two leading threats in last week’s two-day summit in London.

“The world’s amphibians are facing an uphill battle for survival,” said James Collins, co-chair of the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) coordinated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“By far the worst threats are infectious disease and habitat destruction, so the Alliance will focus on these issues first.”

During the meeting at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), it was announced that research into possible treatments for the chytrid fungus should be at the top of the priority list.

The fungus was only just discovered within the past ten years, and now has be seen plaguing amphibians in the Americas, Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The origin and nature of the fungus is still being researched, and finding something to stop it outside of a mere laboratory has been the greatest challenge.

They carry a natural chemical defense on their skin that researchers are looking at to see if it can possibly be made into something that could combat the fungus in the wild, especially for species that have no such defense.

This research is considered to be an urgent priority by the new Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA).

The more difficult task at hand will be the ongoing destruction of habitat, which is a problem in most continents, particularly in parts of Asia that are experiencing a rapid expansion of their cities, industry and infrastructure.

Claude Gascon, the Amphibian Specialist Group’s other co-chair said, “If we want to stop the amphibian extinction crisis, we have to protect the areas where amphibians are threatened by habitat destruction.” 

“One of the reasons amphibians are in such dire straits is because many species are only found in single sites and are therefore much more susceptible to habitat loss.”

As a group, amphibians are faced with greater threats than birds, mammals, fish or reptiles.

Other than habitat loss and chytrid, amphibians threatened by unsustainable hunting for food, medicine and the pet trade, chemical pollution, climatic change, introduced species and other infectious diseases

Though the ASA was proposed in 2006, inadequate financing and institutional backing created an insurmountable roadblock.

The scientists at that time were at odds with one another about how the money and resources should be divided between conservation in the wild and captive breeding.

They have since reached a general concession that both are absolutely necessary.

“Amphibians have so much to offer humans,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and convener of the Amphibian Mini-Summit.

“Many have an arsenal of compounds stored in their skin that have the potential to address a multitude of human diseases. However, opportunities are being lost, such as the Southern Gastric Brooding Frog, which could have led to the development of a medicine for human peptic ulcers, had it not gone extinct. We simply cannot afford to let this current amphibian extinction crisis go unchecked,” he said

This new Alliance will work with partners to make the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan happen and to raise the profile of amphibians in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.

Initial backing came forth during the ZSL meeting with a $200,000 pledge that will fund the ASA coordinator’s post for two years.

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