The fightback against the deadly chytrid fungus has begun as scientists have successfully managed to eliminate the killer from sites in the wild.
Emerging in the 1980’s the fungus has spread like wildfire around the planet and is largely blamed for the mass extinctions amphibian species are currently suffering from. Nearly all of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species are capable of becoming infected by chytrid fungus which then causes chytridiomycosis; the disease causing these mass die-offs. Chytridiomycosis causes deadly changes in amphibians skin, as they use this for vital bodily functions such as “drinking” water and absorbing salts, whilst some amphibians are lungless and use their skin to breathe. As such it has become imperative to find a way of preventing further extinctions caused by the fungus.
In 2009 scientists from National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain, the Zoological Society of London and from Imperial College London, started to treat infected midwife toads that they’d caught with itraconazole, an anti-fungal drug before releasing them back into the wild.
The toad’s ponds dried up and refilled between their capture and release which should have killed off the fungus. However when the researchers returned in the spring they found that the toads had become re-infected. This led them to try a new approach and they started to treat the ponds with the drug as well. At the end of this process, four out of five pools were chytrid free and have remained so for two years so far.
This could be a real turning point in the fight against chytrid. Itraconazole has previously used to successfully treat individuals in captivity but this is the first time chytrid has being successfully eradicated in the wild. The research does however come with the warning that this application may not always be the most appropriate for some situations. Study author Trenton Garner at the Institute of Zoology in London says however “It’s an application that might well be suited to situations that are deemed urgent.”
Also whilst itraconazole has been successfully used here, there is evidence to suggest that it may impact upon amphibians immune systems making them more susceptible to future outbreaks of the fungus. But the authors of this study say this would not be a problem for tadpoles as they don’t have adaptive immunity which would be suppressed by the drug.
Most importantly however Garner states it is vital that there are regulations in place to prevent the spread of chytrid and other diseases into the wild by transmission routes such as the pet trade, food and research.
Featured Image by Victor Loehr
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