A deadly aquatic fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has killed more than 200 amphibian species around the world since 2004 when the fungus epidemic began.
Sam Scheiner, NSF program officer for Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases says, “Wildlife diseases can be just as devastating to our health and economy as agricultural and human diseases. Bd has been decimating frog and salamander species worldwide, which may fundamentally disrupt natural systems. This study is an important advance in our understanding of the disease, a first step in finding a way to reduce its effects.”
The scientists say, aquatic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), disrupts fluid and the electrolyte balance in wild frogs which severely depletes the frogs’ sodium and potassium levels and causing cardiac arrest and death.
The chytrid fungus attacks an amphibian’s skin, causing it to become up to 40 times thicker. Since frogs depend on their skin to absorb water and electrolytes like sodium from their environment, UC Berkeley ecologist Jamie Voyles, the lead author of the study and her colleagues knew that chytrid would disrupt fluid balance in the infected amphibians.
SF State biologist Vance Vredenburg said, “The disease is not very hard to treat in the lab with antifungals. We know we can treat animals there. But in nature, the disease is still a moving target.” He added, “It’s been really sad to walk around the basins and think, ‘wow, they’re really all gone.’”
Scientists hope that these findings about aquatic fungus will help them with better treatments for amphibians that are infected.
Vredenburg said, “The mode of death discovered in the lab seems to be what’s actually happening in the field and it’s that understanding that is key to doing something about it in the future.”
The study is published online by peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE and funded through the joint National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health program, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases.