Disease wiping out amphibians before they can be identified

A A A

The frog-killing disease which is sweeping parts of the world is now wiping out amphibian species before they have even been described, new research has shown.

Dramatic declines in amphibian populations in the Americas and Australia have been known since the late 1980s, exemplified by the disappearance of the famous golden toad of the cloud forests of Costa Rica, which has not been seen since 1989. At first the declines were a mystery, but 10 years ago it was realised that many of the disappearing frog, toad and salamander populations were being killed off by a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis. It was thought that global warming might be helping the disease to establish itself.

Now a before-and-after monitoring programme established in Costa Rica's neighbouring state of Panama has shown just how devastating the fungal affliction is when it sweeps through amphibian communities. American scientists working at Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park in El Copé did a detailed survey of all the frogs present between 1998 and 2003, before chytridiomycosis arrived, and identified 63 species. The disease then swept through the area, and when a repeat survey was done between 2006 and 2008, no fewer than 25 species had disappeared, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

But there was more bad news, as researchers used a more precise technique known as DNA barcoding to establish that among the frogs which had previously been catalogued, there were more species than they thought – in fact there were an extra 11 unnamed or "candidate" species. And of these 11, another five had been wiped out by the fungus, giving a total of 30 species lost, before they had even been properly described by science.

"It's sadly ironic that we are discovering new species nearly as fast as we are losing them," said Andrew Crawford, formerly of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and now at the University of the Andes in Colombia. "Our DNA barcode data reveal new species even at this relatively well-studied site, yet the field sampling shows that many of these species new to science are already gone here."

Professor Karen Lips of the University of Maryland, who did the original survey of the frogs on the site, said that the areas where the disease had passed through were "like graveyards". She said: "There's a void to be filled and we don't know what will happen next."

Biologists are increasingly alarmed at the numbers of species disappearing. It is thought that more than 120 may have become extinct since 1980 and the Global Amphibian Assessment lists more than 400 as critically endangered. "If a disease were wiping out species of mammals at this rate, people would be freaking out," the Smithsonian Institute's Beth King said yesterday. "Just imagine if it was whales and rabbits."

It is now thought that between a third and half of the world's 6,000 amphibian species could be wiped out in the coming decades by the disease's chytrid fungus, which kills by attacking the skin of frogs, through which they breathe. Warmer temperatures likely to have been caused by climate change appear to make its effects worse.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power