What stops mass extinctions? Lessons from amphibian die-off in Panama

phys.org | 3/29/2018 | Staff
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Black plague killed between 30 to 50 percent of people worldwide. The cause, Yersinia pestis, is still around, but people are not dying of the plague. An even more devastating modern disease caused by the chytrid fungus wiped entire frog and salamander populations off the map. New results from work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama published in the Mar. 29 edition of Science, reveal the outcomes of the chytridiomycosis epidemic and their implications for diseases of mass destruction.

"Imagine a deadly disease that affects not only humans but other mammal species like dogs, cats and cows," said Roberto Ibañez, STRI staff scientist and in-country director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. "Chytridiomycosis kills off most of the individuals in many different species of amphibians, but it usually stops short of driving them to complete extinction."

Karen - Lips - University - Maryland - College

"We were lucky that Karen Lips, now at the University of Maryland in College Park and colleagues saw this epidemic coming into Panama from Costa Rica, and we were able to study both the frogs and the disease before, during and after the peak of the epidemic," Ibañez said.

Disease outbreaks rarely annihilate the host species, because pathogens need their hosts in order to survive and reproduce.

Samples - Frogs - Pathogen - Time - Frogs

"Because we have pathogen and host samples from before, during and after the epidemic, we can ask whether some frogs survived because the pathogen grew weaker through time, or because the frogs' immune systems or resistance increased through time," said Jamie Voyles, disease ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, and first author of the paper.

The authors tracked changes...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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