Scientists have discovered a potential cure for a deadly fungal disease that is devastating amphibian populations worldwide.
Chytridiomycosis, a deadly disease caused by the ‘chytrid’ fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has been linked to many amphibian declines around the world. It is also thought to be at least partly responsible for a number of amphibian extinctions.
Until recently, scientists have struggled to discover an effective means of controlling the spread of this devastating disease.
However, in a new study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, researchers from Oregon State University report that a species of zooplankton – a tiny aquatic animal – has been found to eat the fungus.
Daphnia magna, a type of ‘water flea’, consumes the aquatic, free-swimming spores which form the infective stage of the chytrid fungus. This observation has raised the possibility of using biological control – a method of controlling pest species using natural predators or parasites – to fight chytridiomycosis.
Scientists are unsure what is causing the rapid spread of the chytrid fungus, and efforts to eradicate it from localised areas have so far been unsuccessful. Control measures to reduce the impacts of the disease on amphibian populations may be a more realistic option.
According to Julia Buck, the lead author of the study, “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.”
The chytrid fungus is not always deadly at low levels, and the researchers suggest that using the zooplankton could reduce the density of the fungus enough to give amphibians a better chance of fighting off infection.
The scientists now need to conduct field studies to test how effective Daphnia magna may be at controlling the chytrid fungus in natural settings. This tiny organism inhabits amphibian breeding sites where chytrid transmission occurs, and may therefore be a useful tool in halting the unprecedented declines in the world’s amphibian species.
Read more on this story at Mongabay – Could zooplankton save frogs from deadly epidemic?
Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author