Scientists find a possible cure to a disease that has been devastating frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians worldwide.
Scientists have discovered that a species of zooplankton will eat a fungal pathogen that is killing amphibians around the world.
Researchers at Oregon State University found that Daphnia magna, a freshwater microorganism, will consume the zoopore or the free-swimming stage of the “chytrid” fungus. The discovery opens the door for a possible biological solution to a problem that has confounded ecologists.
“We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that,” said Julia Buck, a doctoral student in zoology at and Oregon State University lead author of the study, which is published in Biodiversity and Conservation. “Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go.”
Red-eyed tree frogs seem to be less affected by the disease. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Buck and colleagues suggest that Daphnia magna could reduce the density of B. dendrobatidis, the chytrid fungus, enough to enable amphibians to fight off infection.
Chytrid has been moving across key habitats like a plague. While scientists have been unsure what is driving its spread, some suspect accidental introduction by researchers, tourists, and forest workers. Chytrid is blamed for the extinction of dozens of species of frogs and toads over the past 20 years. Its presence has been linked to declines in other amphibians as well.
“About one third of the amphibians in the world are now threatened and many have gone extinct,” said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology and co-author. “It’s clear there are multiple threats to amphibians, but disease seems to be a dominant cause.”
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