Frog-killing fungus, good news at last

This video from Spain is about the Mallorcan midwife toad.


Lizzie Wade


7:02 pm

A Frog-Killing Fungus Finally Meets Its Match on the Island of Mallorca

This fall, like every fall for the past six years, Jaime Bosch found himself dangling off a cliff on the island of Mallorca with a backpack full of tadpoles. The Spanish ecologist was rappelling down to the bottom of a steep canyon, preparing to return his precious cargo to the ponds where they had hatched.

Bosch, who works at Spain’s National Museum of Natural History, had evacuated the tadpoles weeks earlier, hoping to save them from certain death at the hands of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, better known as Bd. Since researchers discovered it in the late 1990s, the fungus has decimated amphibian populations around the world, leading to the collapse or extinction of at least 200 species. Bosch was hoping against hope that he could prevent the Mallorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis) from being next.

Bd is an insidious fungus, growing all over an infected amphibian’s skin—the organ through which the creatures breath and drink. Infection often leads to fatal organ failure. Normally, once Bd makes its way into an ecosystem, scientists can’t do much besides tally up the carnage.

Mallorca and its native toads have some unique characteristics that made Bosch think he might be able to save them. First of all, it’s a very simple system, ecologically speaking: one island, with one amphibian species. Plus, the island only has a few ponds, making it possible to capture every last tadpole that hatches in them. Finally, the ponds tend to dry out every summer and get refilled by autumn rains, which should flush out any Bd-infected water.

Not that it was easy. Hence the rappelling down into canyons to reach the ponds, loading the tadpoles into plastic water bottles, and making an arduous hike out. Once Bosch got the tadpoles back to his lab, he bathed them for seven days in an anti-fungal solution designed to kill any Bd spores growing on their skin. At first, he thought that would be enough to eliminate the fungus from the island. Optimistic, he loaded the tadpoles into a helicopter that would get them as close to the ponds as it could, before transferring them to his backpack for another rappelling trip down the canyons.

But when he and his team went back the next year, they found that the tadpoles were infected again. That meant the local environment was hiding a reservoir of Bd somewhere—most likely the adult toads that were too reclusive to catch.

Bosch decided that if his team couldn’t treat every infected animal, they would have to disinfect the whole place. So this time, after they evacuated the tadpoles to the lab for their anti-fungal baths, they drained the breeding ponds and scrubbed the underlying rock with a chemical call Virkon-S, renowned for its Bd killing ability.

“That’s what works. That’s when the fungus didn’t come back,” Bosch says. In an article published today in Biology Letters, he reports that his team successfully eliminated Bd from four out of five infected ponds on Mallorca. They repeated the protocol on the fifth pond this year, and Bosch hopes the whole island will be officially free of the fungus by the next tadpole season.

“It’s a monumental achievement,” says Brian Gratwicke, a biologist who leads the amphibian efforts at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC. “It provides huge hope for the whole community.”

But it’s not exactly transferable. Flying tadpoles around by helicopter? Rappelling down inaccessible canyons? Covering every rock in a pond with toxic chemicals? If this is what it takes to stop Bd on one island, in one simple ecosystem, how can scientists even hope to eradicate it in the rest of the world?

Well…they can’t. Karen Lips, a biologist at the University of Maryland who helped discover Bd, doubts any of these methods would be effective in the rainforest of Panama, where she works. “Sterilizing one pond is not going to do it. You’d have to sterilize the entire jungle.” Still, she says, such techniques could be useful for protecting other islands and isolated ecosystems from Bd. “Perhaps that’s what we’re going to be left with: lots of islands. Either islands in oceans, or mountaintop islands, or islands in a sea of concrete. Maybe that’s the way we’re going to be able to protect our amphibians in the future,” Lips says.

Bosch agrees that his protocol “is not a solution for eliminating Bd from everywhere in the world.” But, he says, “we can’t just stand still and do nothing,” watching amphibian after amphibian go extinct. “Every now and again [the amphibian science] community needs a win. And this is one of those wins,” Gratwicke says. Bosch won this battle. And sometimes, in a war, that’s the best you can hope for.

Dipper and frog, photo

Dipper and frog

This video shows a dipper and a frog. An edible frog; not edible for the dipper.

Wampys from the Netherlands made this photo.

Dutch great crested newts and World War II

This video from England says about itself:

24 July 2012

Juliet Hawkins, conservation adviser at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, introduces us to the elusive great crested newt. With information about the species, how to spot them and how Suffolk Wildlife Trust are helping to bring them back to Suffolk’s ponds.

Wars cause big damage to the environment and to wildlife.

However, sometimes some aspects of some wars have unintended beneficial side effects for some wildlife.

In 1942, the nazi German occupiers of the Netherlands built a military airbase near Havelte in Drenthe province. Allied warplanes bombed this base, resulting in thousands of bomb craters.

Many of these craters still exist today, now that the former military airport is a nature reserve. Some of them are filled with water: a good environment for the great crested newts living there now.

Rare toad rediscovery in Dutch Brabant

This 2012 video from the Netherlands is about spadefoot toad conservation.

Translated from the Dutch RAVON herpetologists:

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

After more than 50 years, the spadefoot toad has been rediscovered in the west of North Brabant, the Brabantse Wal. The spadefoot toad is an extremely rare and endangered amphibian species. In each of the five Dutch provinces where the species occurs, its areas over time have considerably diminished, so also in North Brabant.

In this province there are only three natural populations present (reintroductions excluded). The westernmost populations in the Netherlands were formerly on the Brabantse Wal. Here the spadefoot toad (Pelobates fuscus) was discovered at two sites in the past, east of Ossendrecht (1953) and Bergen op Zoom (1960). In both places, the species was only observed once. Due to the absence of observations it was assumed during more than half a century that it was extinct there.

Amphibian, reptile films at Rotterdam festival

This video says about itself:

Adapting Anolis

Short wildlife film documenting the adaptations of Cuba’s Anolis lizards that have allowed them to dominate Cuba‘s jungles.

At the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, there are not only films about birds and mammals, but also the film Adapting Anolis.

The festival organisers write about it:

Cuba’s rainforests are famous for housing the Anolis lizard. There are over 60 different species of Anolis lizard living in Cuba ranging in size from minute to mighty. These lizards have managed to dominate Cuba’s jungle and Adapting Anolis explores the adaptions that have allowed these lizards to become so successful.

There is also the film Pyrenees Island, about a newly discovered amphibian species.

The festival organisers write about it:

In 1990, the discovery of a mysterious frog motivated a Spanish ecologist to begin research on this little amphibian. After three years of extensive studies, Jordi Serra Cobo finally described this new species and named it Rana pyrenaica. Starting in the footsteps of the rare Pyrenean frog, the film invites us into the chaotic world of high mountain torrents.

In this turbulent environment, strange rare beings live alongside the frog. All of them have a complex evolutionary history. All of them are now threatened with extinction. The story tells us not only about the magic of the Pyrenean frog the naturalist discovered, but it also has a lot to teach us about ourselves and the uncertain future that awaits us.

And there is also this Dutch film about frogs at the festival.

Tree frog video

This video shows a tree frog in the Netherlands.

Nolda van Asieldonk made the video.

Good endangered salamander news from Guatemala

Long-limbed salamander

From Wildlife Extra:

Endangered salamander habitat saved in Guatemala

The last remaining forest home of two species of salamander, lost to science for nearly 40 years, has been saved following the completion of a land purchase supported by World Land Trust (WLT) and a consortium of funders.

The purchase of Finca San Isidro in the western highlands of Guatemala was finalised by WLT’s Guatemalan partner, Fundación Para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación (FUNDAECO) in September 2015, following WLT’s donation towards the purchase earlier in 2015.

Among others, the species that are now protected are Finca Chiblac Salamander (Bradytriton silus), categorised by IUCN as Critically Endangered, and the Long-limbed Salamander (Nyctanolis pernix), categorised as Endangered.

High in Guatemala’s Cuchumatanes mountain range, the salamanders’ forest home had been slated for coffee production. Land clearance would have certainly gone ahead if it hadn’t been for the intervention of international funders.

FUNDAECO identified the importance of the property back in 2009. Finca San Isidro measures 2,280 acres (922.5 hectares) and of the total area, WLT funding has secured more than 800 acres (324 hectares). FUNDAECO will oversee the conservation management of the property.

“Thank you for the invaluable support we have received from World Land Trust in creating San Isidro Reserve, in the Western Highlands of Guatemala,” said Marco Cerezo, Director of FUNDAECO. “This important effort among research academics, local conservationists and organisations to fund the protection of unique ecosystems will help avoid the rapid degradation of this unique biological treasure and also assist the fight against poverty by supporting livelihoods for local communities.”