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.

BirdLife Spain gets award

This video from the Netherlands is called Biesbosch – Marsh Harrier hunting – Panasonic GH3 test slow motion HD.

From BirdLife:

BirdLife Spain receives top European award

By Irene Lorenzo, Wed, 04/11/2015 – 14:48

Campo de Montiel, a Natura 2000 site in the Spanish region of Castile-La Mancha, has today played host to a celebration of the Natura 2000 Awards (European Citizen category) which has been jointly presented to SEO/BirdLife, Agencia EFE and BirdLife Europe as a result of their campaign ‘‘Natura 2000 Day’’. …

It comes at a crucial time for the network as the laws that created it, the Birds and Habitats Directives, are currently under a ‘Fitness Check’ review by the European Commission. This is happening within the worrying context of Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, hoping to “merge and overhaul” the directives in order to make them more “business friendly”.

As part of today’s celebrations, three marsh harriers were released back into the wild, following their rehabilitation in a nearby wildlife sanctuary. Natura 2000 producers also donated a range of local products to be served during the event, underlining the importance of these sites to local communities.

Today’s event reminds us of the economic and ecological benefits we enjoy from this network and the need to further implement nature protection laws to safeguard Europe’s natural wealth.

Vultures’ autumn migration from Spain to Morocco

This is a Rüppell’s vulture video from Africa.

From Moroccan Birds blog, with photos there:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More than 400 Griffon Vultures and 1 Rüppell’s Vulture migrating at Jbel Moussa

More than 400 Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) crossed today the Strait of Gibraltar at Jbel Moussa and Punta Cires (Dalia). They were first detected circling and gaining altitude near Algarrobo (between Tarifa and Algeciras in Spain) by telescope at 10H50min. The first group started to cross at 11h22min and started to arrive to Morocco at 11h56min (with slight westerly winds). They were four groups of 238, 83, 18 and 70 vultures.

In late afternoon we met Jose Antonio Barba Ramos who visited us from Murcia, and he told us that he observed about 300 vultures at Cazalla near Tarifa of which a group of about 100 were about to cross the Strait at 15h00min (Moroccan time).

One Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) also crossed with the griffons but was not seen in the field but was detected when Rachid El Khamlichi was processing the photographs.

A week ago, more than 3500 Griffon Vultures were recorded at Jbel Moussa after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

Dutch bee-eaters, more nests than ever

This video is about a small bee-eater nesting colony near Huesca in Spain.

The Dutch SOVON ornithologists report today about bee-eaters nesting in the Netherlands this year.

In 2015, there were 212 bee-eater nests in the Netherlands: more than ever.

Seven of them were in a successful breeding colony in Limburg province.

There was a nest in Friesland. However, there the chicks died from lack of food. The food in Friesland turned out to have been mainly bumblebees (55%) and wasps (16%).