Deadly frog fungus completely absent from New Guinea
Pacific Ocean island represents haven from parasite that is killing amphibians worldwide. Nick Carne reports.
Scientists are closing in on what has been described as the world’s most destructive pathogen – the chytrid fungus, which is devastating amphibian populations across the globe.
In May 2018, results of genetic analysis suggested that the fungus may have originated in Korea and spread through the international pet trade.
Now field studies by another international team have revealed that the fungus doesn’t exist at all in New Guinea, which is home to 6% of all known frog species.
That’s surprising, given that the world's largest tropical island should be an ideal environment for supporting it.
It’s also a great opportunity, the researchers suggest.
“You don't often spot a conservation disaster before it happens and get the chance to stop it,” says Deborah Bower from Australia’s University of New England. “We know what needs to be done.”
Thirty experts from Australia, the US, China, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have developed a five-step plan to try to keep the fungus out, or to fight it if it does arrive. Details are published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
Also known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), chytrid fungus is reported to have destroyed more than 90 species of frog and caused declines in almost 500 more. It is now present on every continent.
The researchers estimate that around 100 species would be in danger if Bd reaches New Guinea, and their decline could have huge impacts across the ecosystem, because they are predators of insects and other small creatures and also prey for larger animals.
“A lot of New Guinea's frogs are closely related to Australian species that have been devastated by chytrid, so we expect they would be just as vulnerable,” says Simon Clulow, from Australia’s Macquarie University.
“Other New Guinea frog species are unusual because they hatch from eggs as fully formed frogs, rather than going through a tadpole stage, and we don't know how chytrid will affect them.”
Clulow and colleagues are working with zoos, universities and the PNG Government to keep captive frogs and store their sperm and eggs to preserve genetic diversity.
The program also will build local capacity in science, and disease surveillance and diagnosis that will have applications for animal and public health.