Museum Researchers Find Deadly Frog Fungus in Madagascar

In 2015, an international team of amphibian experts including Museum Curator Christopher Raxworthy discovered that a fungus responsible for the decline of frog populations worldwide has been detected in Madagascar.

 

“Malagasy frogs had been living in a Bd fungus-free zone of the world…now this is not the case.”

Chris Raxworthy Curator-in-Charge, Department of Herpetology

 

In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports in February 2015, the researchers documented the detection of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) in the island’s wild amphibians. The discovery has spurred conservationists to action in Madagascar, which is home to about 7 percent of the world’s amphibian species.

Raxworthy, a co-author on the paper, noted that frogs in Madagascar had long been living in a part of the world free of the Bd fungus. The new study shows clearly that this is no longer the case. 

The fungus, which causes the infectious amphibian disease chytridiomycosis, was first discovered in 2010-11 in Madagascar’s remote Makay Massif, in the south-central region of the island. Surprisingly, this area is far from seaports, airports, and major towns and roads, and so does not fit a typical pattern of human introduction.

 

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Chris Raxworthy (center) in the field in Madagascar.

© C. Raxworthy


For their study, the researchers screened more than 4,100 amphibians across Madagascar and confirmed the presence of Bd in five locations on the island. Bd has been detected in more than 500 species worldwide, and at least 200 species have declined as a result of chytrid infection.

Raxworthy and the other authors are working on determining whether the fungus they detected belongs to the deadly strain implicated in these worldwide amphibian die-offs. So far, there have been no frog deaths reported in Madagascar that are associated with Bd, but researchers are urging the development of a strategy for monitoring, preventing, and mitigating the infection.

This strategy is especially important because Madagascar harbors an extraordinary array of amphibian diversity, with more than 290 described species and over 200 undescribed candidate species.

 

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A frog of the genus Mantidactylus. Bd fungus in Madagascar was first found in members of this as-yet-undescribed species.

© C. Raxworthy


“We know how bad this could be, but this time we can still make a difference by preventing the kinds of mass die-offs we’ve seen in other countries,” said Reid Harris, co-author on the paper and director of international disease mitigation for the Amphibian Survival Alliance. “Together, the global conservation community is addressing the emergency at its inception, putting into practice what we’ve learned in the midst of—or even after—extinctions in places like Central America.”