Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Frogs Are Fighting Back

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Frogs are fighting back

Many of you may already know about chytridomycosis, the devastating fungus which is causing global devastation to many amphibious species.  For those of you who are unaware, the fungus works by damaging the delicate skin of amphibians by preventing the absorption of vital nutrients.  This eventually causes cardiac arrest in the individual.  Unfortunately for amphibians, the fungus spread quickly and has already caused many species of frog to become extinct around the world.
The Mountain Chicken (Leptodactylus fallax), named due it tasting very similar to actual chicken, is one such frog species on the brink of extinction. Chytridomycosis was introduced to the fungus free island of Montserrat through infected amphibian stowaways hiding in imports from Dominica.  There were only two healthy populations left on the island after the infection, causing a major threat to the species survival.
Conservationists have dealt with this problem partly by organising emergency airlifts, in an attempt to rescue the last of dwindling populations.  Once infected, individuals are taken into captivity where the fungus can be treated. Unfortunately, they cannot be released back into the wild as no method has been developed to eradicate the chytrid fungus from water bodies in their natural habitats.  As a result, many captive breeding programmes have been initiated to try to boost healthy global populations with the hope that the vulnerable species may one day be released back in to the wild.
It is known that the fungus affects different species in different ways, with some quickly succumbing to its effects and others being able to fight it off completely, such as the Cane Toad (Bufo marinus).  It has also been found that other amphibians, such as salamanders and caecilians, are more resistant to the fungus.
This understanding has led to an exciting break through by a team from Cornell University in the US who have recently published an exciting discovery.  The team collected Lowland Leopard Frogs (Rana yavapaiensis) from five locations around Arizona and then infected each group with the chytrid fungus under laboratory conditions.  As expected, three groups died from the fungus, however astonishingly the other two groups managed to completely fight off the disease within two weeks with no repercussions.
Researchers discovered that the species’ ability to survive infection was the result of differences in their immune system, specifically the structure of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This information shows that different populations have the evolutionary ability to develop a resistance to the disease, giving hope that wild populations will not become completely extinct.
This specific information may also help with captive breeding programmes.  Individuals that exhibit the MHC’s that provide immunity to the chytrid fungus can be selected for mating, helping to improve the chance of immune offspring and a healthy population.
By Lizy Tinsley


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