Chytrid Fungus: Hope for Fighting Deadly Amphibian Disease

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered a freshwater organism that might help in fighting the chytrid fungus, which is a principal cause for the worldwide amphibian decline. A freshwater species of zooplankton, called Daphnia magna, could provide a tool for biological control of the deadly fungus whose impact, one researcher has called “the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history.”

Daphnia magna is a variety of water fleas of the genus Daphnia, some species of which are commonly used as food for aquarium fish. It was known that the zooplankton could devour some types of fungi. Oregon researchers wanted to find out whether Daphnia magna could also consume the chytrid fungus that has been devastating amphibian populations worldwide, including Colorado’s endangered boreal toad.

Through extensive research, scientists confirmed that Daphnia magna could consume the free swimming spores of the fungal pathogen. According to lead researcher Julia Buck, an OSU doctoral student in zoology, in an Oregon State University press release:

We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that. Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go.

Now scientists need to conduct field studies to confirm the zooplankton’s effectiveness in a natural setting. The OSU scientists have found that Daphnia inhabits amphibian breeding sites where chytrid transmission occurs and may be able to stem the unprecedented population declines and extinctions.

For background on the chytrid fungus, please see the video below that we found on the Save the Frogs site, produced by the National Science Foundation:

The Oregon State University research was reported in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, and was  supported by the National Science Foundation. Click here for the full report.


The Canyon Tree Frog – Guest Post, Allystair D. Jones

We are extremely pleased to feature a guest post by Allystair D. Jones, who studied the canyon tree frog population in Zion National Park, Utah, to determine if the frogs were infected with the chytrid fungus, a disease that is wiping out amphibian populations worldwide. His research will be published by The Utah Academy of Science, Arts and Letters in May 2011. 

Chytridiomycosis is an emerging infectious disease that is plaguing the world and causing the extinction of frogs around the globe. This disease is believed to have come from Africa in 1938 when frogs were sometimes used to diagnose pregnancy. This disease is responsible for the extinction of at least 30 populations of frogs and has found its way into Arizona killing the canyon tree frog (Hyla arenicolor). The Chytrid disease can move very quickly and is transferred through water, contact, or even muddy boots from hikers. My research is aimed at watching the population of canyon tree frogs in Zion National Park and as of the summer of 2009 it appeared this population is safe. 

Photo by Allystair D. Jones

The geography of Zion National Park is very unique. Zion is the middle step in the grand staircase with the Grand Canyon being the first and Bryce Canyon the last. This made locating the frogs often very difficult and technical rappelling and climbing skills were needed. I have been climbing for more than 20 years so I was especially suited for this study. I travelled through the canyons where this frog likes to live and captured, swabbed their bellies with a cotton swab, and released them back to the location that I caught them. I used the prescribed swabbing techniques and noted the location and time of the swab. I then saved the samples for DNA testing. 

Photo by Allystair D. Jones

Photo by Allystair D. Jones

I tested all the samples with a general fungus primer, meaning I tested it to see if there was any fungus at all even if it wasn’t the chytrid fungus. Those that were positive for a fungus were tested for the specific chytrid. The results were very pleasing as none of the samples came up positive for this deadly fungus. This was the first study of this kind done in Zion National Park and during the following year there should be more if the funding keeps up. 

Photo by Allystair D. Jones

It was noted in a review journal article at the beginning of this year (Kilpatrick et al 2010) that to help combat this disease we would need to find a viable population of frogs that are not already infected. I submit this population of frogs to be that population, that if monitored with care may help us gain ground in fighting this deadly disease. We need to increase our efforts to learn about this disease. 

Photo by Allystair D. Jones

Photo by Allystair D. Jones


For more information or comments my email is: ajones67@dmail.dixie.edu

*KILPATRICK, A. M., BRIGGS, C. J. & DASZAK, P. 2010. The ecology and impact of chytridiomycosis: an emerging disease of amphibians. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 25, 109-118.  


Text "FROG" and Help Save a Frog Today

Below is a re-post from the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project about their newly launched Text-Frog campaign to raise 50 K for their amphibian rescue program. We hope you will consider helping this worthwhile amphibian conservation effort by donating $5 via cell phone. See below for details.

YOU can help frogs!

The price we pay every time we lose a frog species to chytrid is too great to measure. The cost of saving frogs, however, is scant in comparison. But we need your help! That’s why we’ve launched a mobile giving campaign, providing an easy and convenient tool for you to help us battle chytrid and give the frogs a safe haven. Just pull out your cell phone and text “FROG” to 20222 to make a $5 donation to the rescue project.

Every $5 that comes in this way will go toward our new goal of raising the $50,000 it takes to turn a shipping container into a rescue pod. These rescue pods are biosecure “arks” where we can care for frogs that would otherwise be hit hard by the wave of chytrid. Without this ark, we won’t have a safe place to keep the frogs—so help us raise the funds by spreading the word!

So what will your money buy? Check it out:

$5: Three swab sticks used to test frogs for chytrid.
$5: A box of gloves to help ensure the cleanest and safest handling of the frogs.
$5: Pair of Crocs for keepers and visitors to change into to prevent bringing anything harmful into the biosecure rescue pods and areas where the frogs are kept.
$5: Small cricket container—caring for the frogs’ food is an important part of caring for the frogs.
$10: Four gallons of bleach, to keep the floor of the pod and quarantine rooms sterile.
$10: Large cricket container.
$10: Frog quarantine tank.
$15: Tub of yeast to feed fruit flies, which in turn are fed to the frogs.
$20: Calcium powder for frogs to keep them strong and healthy.
$20: Paper towel pack to help clean the tanks.
$30: 100 pounds of tilapia (fish food) to feed the crickets.
$30: Standard frog tank.
$150: Bottle of anti-fungal medication to treat the animals for chytrid.

Watch as our rescue pod fills up with frogs by following the progress of our $50K for Frogs campaign. And make sure to text “FROG” to 20222* to save a frog today! (You can text “FROG” to 20222 up to six times.)

*A one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Messaging & Data Rates May Apply. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. You can unsubscribe at any time by replying STOP to short code 20222; Reply HELP to 20222 for help. You can also find the privacy policy here.


Fighting to Save Colorado's Boreal Toad

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is struggling to save a local amphibian from extinction—the four-inch boreal toad. Once abundant, it is one of many frog species worldwide threatened with extinction by the chytrid fungus, an infectious disease that is devastating amphibian populations. (See our recent post about some rececent promising chytrid fungus research.)

Boreal toad, Colorado

The federal government has refused to list the boreal toad as an endangered species, claiming it is genetically the same as a toad found throughout the West. Tina Jackson of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and other experts disagree.  The toad is, however, a state-listed endangered species in Colorado and New Mexico, and a protected species in Wyoming.

The boreal toads were once common in Colorado’s Southern Rocky mountains. They were found near shallow lakes and beaver ponds at an elevation of 7,000 to 12.000 feet. Thirty years ago, the toads began to disappear. Habitat loss due to logging, grazing, recreation, and water projects contributed to their decline.

But by the late-1990s, the chytrid fungus was identified as the main threat to the toads.  Several hundred  toads have been raised in captivity and reintroduced to the wild, but so far these efforts have not been successful in producing breeding adults.

At two sites, in Larimer County and in Rocky Mountain National Park,  a few introduced toads have survived their first few years. Some of these toads are now 3 and 4 years old, and officials will soon know if they will breed.

The agency has trained volunteers to look for boreal toads while hiking, especially in remote areas where in which toads have not been infected by the chytrid fungus.  Toads reintroduced into these chytrid-free areas might have a fighting chance at survival.

For more information see:

DOW Doesn’t Want this Toad to Croak, by R. Scott Rappold, The Colora,do Springs Gazette


Hope for Frogs in Fight Against Chytrid Fungus

This week  Scientific American reported that researchers in California and Virginia have identified a symbiotic bacteria living on frogs’ skin that protects them from chytrid, a fungal disease contributing to the extinction of one-third of the world’s amphibians.  They discovered this naturally occurring bacteria, toxic to the chytrid fungus, in the skin of mountain yellow-legged frogs and redback salmanders.

The chytrid fungus most likely began in African Clawed frogs, which carry the fungus that causes chytrid, but don’t die from it. In the 1940s these frogs were raised in captivity for pregnancy tests.  Most of the frogs were released once this method was no longer used for the tests. They infected amphibians in the United States and around the world.

So far scientists have not found a way to combat this deadly disease that spreads quickly in amphibian populations. Individual animals can be treated, but not large populations of amphibians.

But in this recent study, frogs inoculated with a solution containing the symbiotic skin bacteria survived. The scientists plan to introduce the bacteria to the wild with with a method called bioaugmentation. They hope to increase naturally occurring bacteria so that it can spread to even more frogs and other amphibians.

This summer the scientists will be conducting tests in isolated areas to ensure that  bioaugmentation will be safe and environmentally friendly. If successful, this might offer the first real hope for warding off the mass exinction of the earth’s amphibians. Good news indeed for our froggy friends!

Mountain Yellow-legged frog


The Amphibian Avenger – Lucy Cooke

We’re proud to feature guest blogger, Lucy Cooke, The Amphibian Avenger, who tells us about herself, what her mission is, and how we can all help.


I love frogs. I always have. As a small child I became fascinated by the miracle of metamorphosis, catching and studying tadpoles like a true proto frog geek. As an adult studying zoology at Oxford the astonishing diversity of amphibian life seemed to me to most eloquently illustrate the incredible adaptive power of evolution.

When I heard about the global amphibian crisis I was completely horrified and keen to do something about it. I discovered that most of my friends didn’t know that over a third of amphibians are going extinct or about the horrors of the Chytrid fungus. It made me aware of how little press amphibians get compared with birds and mammals so I decided that, as a writer and filmmaker, the best thing I could do would be to spread the word. So for the last few months I have been traveling around Latin America researching stories for a documentary on the crisis and writing a blog about my findings. I’ve been to some amazing places, met some inspirational characters, and discovered some truly awesome frogs. And it’s not over yet.

I started my trip by joining an expedition into the Patagonian wilderness with ZSL [Zoological Society of London] scientists to search for Darwin’s frog – the last of the gastric- or throat-brooding frogs left on the planet and the only species of animal (other than the seahorse) in which the male gets pregnant. After the eggs are fertilised the male gobbles them up and 8 weeks later he burps up baby frogs.

I was lucky enough to see and film a daddy Darwin’s frog carrying several tadpoles in his throat sack. It was one of the freakiest things I have ever seen – a mass of tadpoles wriggling in a frog’s belly – it looked like something out of the movie Alien. It gave me goose bumps to witness something so very special but sadly so very endangered. Darwin’s frog is threatened by habitat destruction and also the rampant spread of the Chytrid fungus. It would be a devastating loss to biodiversity for such an extraordinary animal to disappear off the planet.

Since then I have licked poison dart frogs in Colombia, visited infested frog farms in Uruguay and hunted mass murdering toads in Chile.

 But probably the most shocking story I have come across is that of the endangered Lake Titicaca toad, also known as the aquatic scrotum frog after its exceedingly wrinkly appearance. This monster of the deep has become the key ingredient for Peruvian backstreet Viagra. In downtown Lima I filmed juice bars where they put this toad in a blender and then drink it. A fashion which is pushing this unique amphibian to the brink of extinction.

Drinking frog frappe in downtown Lima from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

I’ve still got Panama and Costa Rica to go and will be posting from these two countries that have already been forced to brave the first wave of Chytrid. So if you like frogs then follow my blog – I think you’ll enjoy my adventure. Frogs need champions to help raise their profile and the necessary funds to save them. So, please spread the word amongst your non-frog loving friends – it’s written not just for frog geeks and they may well learn something new and start to care about the little green guys nearly as much as me.

To follow Lucy’s adventure on her blog, click here.