An amphibian apocalypse
A disease that has ripped through the world’s amphibian species—killing frogs, salamanders, and other creatures by eating away at their skin and triggering heart failure—is more than twice as deadly as scientists thought. Previous research into chytridiomycosis, which is caused by a fungus that’s invisible to the naked eye, estimated that the disease had caused the decline or extinction of some 200 frog species. But the new research concludes that the fungus has in fact caused declines in at least 501 amphibian species, nearly 7 percent of the known total. Of these, 90 species are presumed or confirmed extinct, and another 124 have experienced population declines of more than 90 percent. Species in tropical areas of Australia, South America, and Central America have been hardest hit, but North America, Europe, and Africa have also seen losses. “It’s a staggering thing to consider,” study co-author Jonathan Kolby, from James Cook University in Australia, tells The Washington Post. “We’ve never before had a single disease that had the power to make multiple species extinct, on multiple continents, all at the same time.” The declines have almost certainly affected ecosystems around the world: Many amphibians clear waterways of vegetation while in the tadpole stage of development; frogs can help keep mosquito numbers down by eating their larvae.
Mark Pinder/Guardian/eyevine/Redux, Robert DePalma/University of Kansas, Adrian Ardea/Warren/Animals Animals/Earth Scenes