Foiling the frog-killing fungus

15 12 2008

© F. Brem

© F. Brem

Something I picked up the other day that is an interesting application of ecology and engineering – extreme interventions like this may become more and more necessary, especially for particularly vulnerable taxa like amphibians. This one from New Scientist:

A fungal disease is decimating amphibian populations around the world, and so far the only way to save a species at risk is to remove individuals from the wild. Is it time to try taking out the disease as well?

So far the majority of amphibian conservation efforts have focused on identifying species at high risk of extinction, and establishing captive breeding programmes in biosecure units where they will be protected from Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis Bd, the chytrid fungus that is responsible for the devastating scourge.

“The immediate response has been the right one: to get species that are at risk into captivity,” says Trent Garner of the Institute of Zoology in London. However, he adds, “we’re potentially missing out on some very important species” because, inevitably, some are prioritised over others.

Now an alternative strategy is emerging, which many had previously thought impossible: to reduce the amount of Bd in the wild, and perhaps even to enable amphibians to survive alongside it.

In lab experiments, Garner and colleagues have shown that it is possible to cure tadpoles infected with Bd by bathing them in the antifungal drug itraconazole for 5 minutes a day for seven days. “Even using extremely low doses, we showed that you can eliminate Bd from tadpoles,” says Garner, who presented his results at a meeting on amphibian decline at the Zoological Society of London last week.


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