A new environmental study has found that a deadly fungus is killing the frogs of South America, specifically those living in the Andes.
Researcher working in the Peruvian Andes identified ‘batrachochytrium dendrobatidis’ known as the chytrid fungus or Bd, as the culprit decimating frog populations in the world’s largest mountain range. Chytrid is a skin fungus that causes a lethal infection in the frogs ultimately causing death by cardiac arrest.
Frogs species often seen in the remote mountain region have all but disappeared researchers concluded. Nearly two-thirds of the brightly colored harlequin frogs, for example, native to Central and South America are gone. In the U.S. scientists believe 75 percent of California’s mountain yellow-legged frog was killed off in just four-years from the fungus. According to the Amphibian Rescue organization, “Since 1980 more than 120 species of amphibians have gone extinct, compared to 5 bird species and no mammals.” “Within the first 5 months of arriving at a site, Bd would wipe out half of the species and reduce the abundance of surviving species to about 20% of what they are normally.”
And now the fungus is rampant in the Andes.
Alarmingly this fungal outbreak is viewed “like no other in the history of the world.” Researcher Vance Vredenburg stated “Chytrid fungus outbreaks make bubonic plague look like a slight cough.”
Researchers at first thought South America’s frog population decimation was the result of elevated temperatures from climate change. Climate change, though ruled out as the direct culprit, is contributing to the spread of the chytrid fungus. The planet’s rising temperatures increase cloud cover on the Andes and other tropical mountain tops, leading to cooler days and warmer nights - the perfect growing conditions for the fungus.
The fungus was fist identified in 1998 and human activity is thought to have introduced the fungus to the region. It is not known, however, why the fungus is spreading so rapidly. The research being conducted in the Andes is critical to understanding the decline of all frog species around the world.
While politicians debate the existence of climate change and global warming scientists hope to develop a vaccine that would make all frog species immune to the fungus - at least the species that survive the fungus.