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Climate change may be worsening impacts of killer frog disease

Climate change, which is spawning more extreme temperatures variations worldwide, may be worsening the effects of a devastating fungal disease on the world’s amphibians, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change. Researchers found that frogs infected with the disease, known as chytridiomycosis, perished more rapidly when temperatures swung wildly. However scientists told the BBC that more research is needed before any definitive link between climate change and chytridiomycosis mortalities could be made.

“Our results suggest that decreases in climate predictability associated with climate change could increase Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and amphibian declines,” the researchers write. Bd is the specific fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, which has decimated amphibian populations worldwide, likely playing a major role in several recent extinctions.

Incorporating field data from Latin American amphibian populations and conducting laboratory experiments on infected Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis), the researchers found that the fungus spread more rapidly on frogs when temperatures became more variable, implying that the fungus could adapt quicker to temperature changes than the frog’s defenses.

Still, the scientists say more research will be needed, including looking at other frog species.

In part due to chytridiomycosis—as well as habitat loss, overconsumption, and pollution—amphibians are among the world’s more imperiled animal groups. Currently 30 percent of the world’s frogs are listed as threatened by the IUCN Red List. However, that percentage jumps higher when one considers that a dearth of data for a quarter of the world’ amphibians makes them impossible to assess at this time. It’s believed that at least 120 amphibians have gone extinct since 1980.

Cuban tree frog.
Cuban tree frog.

CITATION: Raffel, Thomas R.; Romansic, John M.; Halstead, Neal T.; McMahon, Taegan A.; Venesky, Matthew D.; Rohr, Jason R. Disease and thermal acclimation in a more variable and unpredictable climate. Nature Climate Change.

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