Quantcast

'Most Destructive Pathogen Ever' Has Created Zombie-Like Apocalypse for World's Amphibians

Animals
A fungal disease which humans have helped to spread among amphibians has led to the decline of 500 species over the past 50 years. Centophobia / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Julia Conley

A terrifying new study details the havoc being wrought by what scientists call "the most destructive pathogen ever" recorded on Earth, finding that with help from unwitting humans a "silent killer" has caused major declines of frogs, salamanders and hundreds of other amphibian species.


Chytridiomycosis or chytrid fungus, has killed off 90 species over the past 50 years while leading to huge losses of 501 kinds of frogs, toads, salamanders and other amphibians, according to researchers from a number of worldwide universities. Nearly 125 of those species have declined by at least 90 percent due to the rapid spread of the pathogen.

The report, published in Science on Thursday, offers disturbing new information about a disease which scientists first detected in 1998 — but whose power they didn't grasp until now.

"We've known that chytrid's really bad, but we didn't know how bad it was, and it's much worse than the previous early estimates," Ben Scheele, an ecologist at Australian National University and lead author of the study, told National Geographic.

Chytrid fungus kills amphibians by eating away the skin of its hosts, leaving amphibians unable to breathe and quickly going into cardiac arrest. The pathogen is easily spread and rapidly destructive to the 695 species it infects.

"If it were a human pathogen, it'd be in a zombie film," biologist Dan Greenberg told National Geographic.

Chytrid fungus does not infect humans — but human activity has helped to spread the disease. The pathogen is thought to have originated in Asia, and both legal and illegal pet trades have helped to spread it to Central, South and North America; Europe; Australia; and Africa. The disease is widespread in the U.S.

Across the world, chytrid fungus "has damaged global biodiversity more than any other disease ever recorded," wrote Michael Greshko in National Geographic.

The study's 42 authors are urging world governments to curb trading of wild amphibians, protect amphibian habitats and support captive-breeding programs to stem the effects of the disease.

"It's pretty sobering that we haven't been able to do those sorts of obvious things," biologist Wendy Palen told National Geographic. "Maybe this is a real wake-up call."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less