Croaking science is a new way for students, volunteers and scientists to explore what’s occurring in the world of Science – science facts, new research or old debates which are inspired by or affect amphibians and reptiles, and then communicate this to a wider audience in their own words. The aim of the feature is to provide a platform for those starting their foray into the world of science communications as well as established scientists. We welcome any submissions from students and scientists. Please note that the views expressed in the articles are not those of the Froglife Trust.
Becky Austin our Croaking Science reporter, looks at the origins of the Chytrid Virus in the UK.
Chytridiomycosis is a disease caused by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The disease causes a number of behavioural and physiological changes in amphibians due to the accumulation of fungal spores in the epidermis, causing eventual death. Due to its infectious nature it is quickly wiping out amphibian populations all over the world at an alarming rate.
Where and when did this virulent disease originate? It was first noted in 1993 in Australia, where frog populations suddenly crashed. However, more recent research found that the origins of the disease lie much further in the past.
By studying museum specimens, researchers found the earliest case of chytridiomycosis in the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis, from as long ago as 1938. The specimen was South African, but Xenopus is widespread in all of sub-Saharan Africa.
Xenopus laevis has been used extensively as a model organism in molecular and developmental biology. Most notably, it was first used in pregnancy testing, where the urine of a pregnant woman would cause a female Xenopus to produce eggs. When this was discovered in the mid-1930s, the unwitting amphibian was exported out of Africa to almost every other continent in the world.
Unfortunately, Xenopus laevis shows no signs of infection when carrying the fungus. Therefore, exporting the species to other countries infected local populations of amphibians, without humans realising the devastating impacts until over half a century later. By this time, the disease had manifested itself into the global pandemic that presents itself to scientists and conservationists today.
What can you do to help?
The disease is around in the UK, – our website and the new Garden Wildlife Health Project websites have information on chytrid fungus. If you see anything that may look like the disease be sure to report it!
- Reporting disease sightings: Report your disease sightings on the Garden Wildlife Health Project website. Registration takes about 10 minutes and you’ll be able to easily add future reports and track incidents nationally.
- Stop the Swap: The disease can be spread by moving both adult amphibians and frog/toad spawn to different ponds. If you build a pond, please allow amphibians to colonise your garden naturally. Stop the Swap of adults and spawn between gardens.
Weldon, C., du Preez, L. H., Hyatt, A.D., Muller, R. and Speare, R. (2004). Origin of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus. Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 10, No. 12, pp 2100-2105.