Frog-killing fungus spreads across Panama Canal towards South America

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

South America, the current hot-spot for describing new frog species, may be in danger of seeing population declines due to an epidemic. A recent scientific paper has found the mysterious fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, has begun to establish into eastward Panama, heading across the Panama Canal boundary towards Colombian amphibian populations. The publication predicts that at the current rate, the fungus will spread into Tortí (Panamá Province) before 2012. The chytrid fungus is believed to be the leading cause of population mortality of amphibians. Species like the common rocket frog (Colostethus panamensis) are succumbing to the effects of the pathogen at an alarming rate. For the last 30 years, the infection has decimated amphibian communities, mostly because of increased temperatures resulting from climate change.

The culprit skin fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is still not fully understood. It can be transmitted by touch, including contact with other amphibians and even rocks and water. Not only has it decimated frogs, salamanders and caecilians in the Americas, but has affected tropical Australia and Asia as well. Scientists think that the fungus may have come from an African clawed frog (Xenopus sp.), because of its worldwide popularity in the pet trade.

Captive breeding programs, like Amphibian Ark are preparing for the worst. There are still many species in the jungles of Central and South America that have not been properly documented, and could be fated to be studied after extinction.