Fighting the fungus felling our frogs

UC experts join other Australian researchers to call for increased efforts to prevent the spread of a deadly fungus wiping out frog species around the world.

By Marcus Butler

4 August  2017: Frogs around the world are increasingly under threat and many species have already become extinct because of a deadly fungus, now a group of scientists are demanding more action to halt the spread  of the chytrid fungus.

The disease, Chytridiomycosis, has been implicated in the mass die-offs and species extinctions of frogs since the 1990s. Although it’s exact origin remains uncertain it can be found in Australia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, New Zealand and Asia.

University of Canberra Distinguished Professor Arthur Georges is among those writing in the prestigious journal Science, demanding more action to protect the declining number of Chytrid free refuges for frogs.

Professor Georges along with experts from James Cook University and the University of Newcastle say Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one such location, where chytrid fungus hasn’t gained a foothold.

“Stopping the inexorable march of the chytrid fungus should it ever reach the island of PNG will be a challenge. Our options for prevention are much more achievable than the cure,” Professor Georges said.

The fungus infects frogs when their skin comes into contact with its spores, which can be transported to new environments by people in numerous ways, including on their footwear or equipment.

The scientists suggest improved bio-protection awareness and legislative changes such as importation bans may improve the chance of protecting PNG from the fungus.

Professor Georges says a lot more work needs to be done on how the disease spreads into new areas.

“We need to identify the likely avenues of spread of the disease, and the frog populations likely to be most affected if we are to bring best knowledge and practice to bear on this insidious pathogen.

“This work needs to be done now, because should chytrid fungus get to PNG it may be too late to start.”

PNG contains around six per cent of the world’s frog species that have not been exposed to chytrid fungus

Other research and conservation actions identified by the researchers include genome storage of vulnerable species, assisted reproduction and captive breeding to help populations recover if the disease gets loose.

The group of researchers are calling for collaborative efforts among scientists, legislators, policymakers, managers, extractive industries and local landowners to prevent chytrid establishing itself on PNG.
Lead author of the article, James Cook University’s Dr Deborah Bower said rapid and concerted action is needed to protect the remaining chytrid-free populations.

“It is much easier and cheaper to conserve species before they are nearly gone. Acting now will save many of the worlds frog species. Better to spend a penny now in prevention that a pound later on a cure,” Dr Bower said.