The amphibian plague
November 17, 2011 4:25 PM   Subscribe

"There is a parallel between what amphibian taxonomists do these days and what homicide detectives do. Both arrive at scenes of mayhem. Maybe they solve the crime, but they are powerless to undo it." A fungal plague is killing the world's amphibians. Hundreds of species are already gone. There is no vaccine and no cure. There is, however, an ark.
posted by escabeche (29 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.
posted by unSane at 4:37 PM on November 17, 2011


Fascinating post, escabeche, thanks.
posted by clockzero at 4:44 PM on November 17, 2011


Uhhh... I'm pretty sure global pandemics didn't happen beforevthe advent of long distance human travel. Disease is the ultimate invasive species.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:44 PM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.

Isn't cancer a natural process too?
posted by benito.strauss at 4:45 PM on November 17, 2011


That ark website is like the polar opposite to that Sylvester Stallone watch site linked last week. The autoplay + imagery on that made me want to run in front of a bus screaming, but this site, with the images of the frogs, was instantly relaxing.
posted by mannequito at 4:50 PM on November 17, 2011


unSane: It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.

Without art conservationists, a large proportion of the Louvre's greatest paintings would have long ago crumbled to dust. It's a natural process -- I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.

We should want to undo it because frogs and other like critters are frickin' neat animals.

And you can smoke 'em.
posted by dmayhood at 4:52 PM on November 17, 2011


1 - it's not just chytrid - there's an unholy trinity of disease, human action and climate change doing the killing.

2 - there's nothing natural about chytrid; the genetics suggest it arose in and is spread by the pet trade , it might have been made worse by increasing temperatures, and even if it were natural we're fragmenting and reducing populations so quickly that any evolutionary responses are going to find it very hard to spread between populations.
posted by cromagnon at 4:53 PM on November 17, 2011 [16 favorites]


"I thought you laaah-ved mheee! Laaaah-ved mheeee!"

/Obligatory pro-conservation propaganda post
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it."

Believe me, that's a position that ecologists and environmental scientists consider all the time.
posted by Pinback at 4:58 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of my fondest, earliest childhood memories is raising frogs from frogspawn; watching them go from gloopy stuff to tiny, perfect frogs was rewarding and amazing and I doubt anything has ever made me feel as accomplished. After they got ready to leave me I would take them back to the area the frogsspawn came from and let them go and hope they made it to next year. (The pond often dried up, even in Ireland's climate as it was only in a quarry and not fed by a stream; my fear that no frogs would come from that year's eggs was the reason why I tried to hatch them.)

A world without frogs is not a world I want to live in. And that's without considering the other potential knock-on factors involved. I don't care whether the cause is natural or not, or how much a role we play in this, by moving and transporting species: we should save frogs if we can. I don't care if that's my six year old frogspawn mothering self talking either.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:05 PM on November 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


There are some amphibian retroviruses we could use to try engineering resistance.
posted by benzenedream at 5:07 PM on November 17, 2011


Great, fascinating post.

Also, it was framed in such a way, that when I got to "there is, however, an ark" I wanted something like the beginning of Mahler 8 to start up.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:20 PM on November 17, 2011


Hey, unsane, I'm looking forward to your response to cromagnon's links. Not snarking, just curious if his argument is convincing to you.
posted by mediareport at 5:21 PM on November 17, 2011


Things would probably be going a lot better if fungus covered conservationists weren't seeking out every last corner of the froggy world to look for signs of a fungus pandemic.
posted by teppic at 5:22 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.

Taking any sense of human morality out of it, keeping species alive is useful for our own purposes. We learn so much from copying how nature/evolution solves complex problems or directly by extracting medicine from animals and plants. And not just historically, but we're still learning incredibly useful things like how geckos stick to walls through nano-biology.
posted by lubujackson at 5:32 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.

Ugh.

Think of it as our selfish attempt to ensure that there will be plenty of frogs for us to look at and eat in the future, nature be damned.
posted by General Tonic at 5:34 PM on November 17, 2011


Good post, thanks escabeche.

Whatever unsane may think, it seems vanishingly unlikely that humans have had no role in the spread of this disease, coming as it does in the midst of this great wave of anthropogenic extinctions. As the scientists note, the fungus will wipe out entire populations, suggesting it has not co-evolved with most populations of amphibians and therefore it must be an introduced species.

In a similar scenario, a different fungal infection threatens to wipe out bats in North America - conceivably, most of them, especially cave dwellers. If you think the mosquitos are bad now .....
posted by Rumple at 5:44 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


lesbiassparrow has the right of it.

When I think of what spring nights would sound like without the airy chorus of frog song I want to weep. Even if they served no greater ecological purpose, they add beauty to the world, and that should be a reason to save them.
posted by winna at 6:05 PM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Things would probably be going a lot better if fungus covered conservationists weren't seeking out every last corner of the froggy world to look for signs of a fungus pandemic.

I'm not sure if you're being serious but this is pretty ignorant/naive. As a vector, individual biologists well aware of the challenges and issues of this fungus would be pretty low down the list. Further, there is evidence that some populations have been habouring the fungi for sometime, but environmental changes including but not limited to climate change, heavy metal, fertiliser and pesticide contamination and pressure from introduced species has made them more vulnerable to it.
posted by smoke at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2011


Bees, tigers, rhinos, dolphins, polar bears, amphibians in general, rain forests, sure everything is dying off en masse but that's just nature's way.
posted by bleep at 6:31 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chytrid fungi are generally decomposers or parasites of invertebrates or plants. This is the first taxon in that large group known to be parasitic on vertebrates.

I'm no forensic taxonomist but I am a vertebrate and this sounds like a Very Bad Thing™ to me.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:02 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like this is simply a natural process. I'm not sure why we should want to undo it.
posted by unSane at 4:37 PM


Eponysterical.

We too are animals, and we should be reminded of that fact often. We're not immune to the changes that are happening on earth. How can you not think that the decimation of thousands of species of amphibians is not just a tragedy for the biosphere but for human beings, too. And it breaks my heart.

Bees, tigers, rhinos, dolphins, polar bears, amphibians in general, rain forests, sure everything is dying off en masse but that's just nature's way.

Ha ha. I find it hard to muster up any kind of smiley reaction here; the scope of this is far beyond sarcasm.
posted by jokeefe at 8:25 PM on November 17, 2011


I was just finding it hard to believe that anyone really thought this was how it's supposed to happen.
posted by bleep at 8:30 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The american bullfrog and cane toad are tolerant to the fungus -- sad, but there's that.
posted by eddydamascene at 9:29 PM on November 17, 2011


Sorry, bleep. It's a delicate subject-- I feel I'm already in mourning for the natural world, and something like this just kind of adds to the feeling of despair...
posted by jokeefe at 10:02 PM on November 17, 2011


they add beauty to the world, and that should be a reason to save them.

Yes! The love for frogs in this thread makes me happy, even as the thought of frogs dying out makes me sad beyond belief. Looking at a frog's lovely little feet, holding a frog, hearing a frog, raising a frog from spawn - well, these are wonders that everyone should experience at some point. I never, ever thought I'd see a world where there was a chance that this would become impossible.

Frogs were the first living beings that I was entrusted with the care of. I took it very, very seriously and have vivid memories of water changing and anxious watching of tadpoles; I named all of the frogs I raised and always hoped that they remembered me fondly (I was six! I had no idea how frog brains worked! I suspect I thought they were slightly odd puppies.). I like to think that somewhere out there their descendants are still raising their voices loud and clear in the Irlsh countryside.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:54 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry to keep dumping Nature references which are behind a paywall for a lot of folks, and need interpreting properly anyway, but:

Bees, tigers, rhinos, dolphins, polar bears, amphibians in general, rain forests, sure everything is dying off en masse but that's just nature's way

is so fundamentally, absolutely wrong, and so dangerous, that it has to be countered with proper analysis.

Yes, everything goes extinct after time, but the rate at which species have been lost over the last few hundred years is already at the maximum ever observed in the fossil record since the dinosaurs vanished. Just think about that for a minute - we've already managed to create a situation more dangerous to mammalian life than all the ice ages (or indeed any of the total global upheavals in the last 65 million years).

And if that isn't chilling enough, if you extrapolate the likely rate of extinctions from the proportion and speed that species have becomes endangered over the last forty or so years, this rate goes up somewhere between 10 and 1000 times. That's comparable, and at the upper end far past, the rates of species loss in the mass extinctions everyone has heard of.

This has been known for nearly twenty years, by the way. There are loads of studies confirming it from different datasets over that period.
posted by cromagnon at 2:38 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I seriously cannot believe that in November of 2011 there are still sites out there with autoplaying audio that you can't turn off.

WHAT

THE

FUCK

INTERNET?
posted by Aizkolari at 4:20 AM on November 18, 2011


Chytrid fungi are generally decomposers or parasites of invertebrates or plants. This is the first taxon in that large group known to be parasitic on vertebrates.

I'm no forensic taxonomist but I am a vertebrate and this sounds like a Very Bad Thing™ to me.



... Then they came for the invertebrates
and I didn't speak out because I was not an invertebrate

Then they came for the amphibians...
posted by Anything at 4:35 AM on November 18, 2011


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