History of a Deadly Disease in Arizona Amphibians

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, more amphibians are threatened with extinction than any other group of vertebrates. Recent evidence indicates our planet is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event and estimates of amphibian extinction rates are over 200 times greater than historic rates. Unless immediate action is taken to conserve them, over 450 amphibian species will be gone by the end of the century. We are working to prevent this tragic outcome, and we need your help.

One reason amphibians are so threatened is an emerging infectious disease called chytridiomycosis, caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). The fungus infects keratinized portions of the epidermis and can drive its hosts extinct. This has been most notably documented in Central American rainforests, where some sites have seen massive amphibian population declines and the loss of multiple species.

Recent research has tried to identify the origin of Bd and and the mechanisms that allow it to spread across a landscape. By focusing on amphibian specimens housed in museum collections, we can determine if Bd was present at the time the animal died and what amphibian species it was infecting. Recent work has identified Bdin Brazil, Illinois, California and Mexico. This historical data, combined with real-time tracking of disease prevalence, allows us to to learn more about this complex pathogen. However, we still do not understand howBd seemingly traveled such great distances from Brazil, to Illinois, across the United States and then south into Mexico before continuing to cause catastrophic amphibian declines in Central America.

Arizona has also experienced declines of amphibian species in the past several decades, however the causes of these declines are not entirely clear. Several species, such as the Lowland Leopard Frog, Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Relict Leopard Frog, and Tarahumara Frog are no longer found in regions where they were detected historically.

The objective of our project is to discover the history of Bd in Arizona and to understand the role Bd has played in shaping current leopard frog communities in Arizona.  Our project will be the first intensive survey of historical museum specimens collected in Arizona.  To achieve this goal and help save amphibian biodiversity around the world, we’ll be swabbing over 2500 frogs and salamanders collected throughout the 20th century to detect the presence of Bd DNA.  If we find Bd in historic specimens, we can begin to build a picture of what brought it to the state and what mechanisms allowed it to spread.  This information will be used to generate effective conservation actions for amphibians in Arizona. Additionally, this study will help the international community to prevent the introduction of Bd to naïve host populations and to identify what can be done to stop the spread of this deadly pathogen.

Amphibians play important roles in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and losing frogs and salamanders would impact other species that share their environment. With your help, we can work to conserve amphibians in Arizona and worldwide. Please support our campaign any way you can – whether that’s a monetary donation or by sharing this page with others. Thanks for taking the time to learn a little bit more about our research and supporting amphibian biodiversity conservation!

Photo Credits: Randy Babb, Moira Brennan, Tom Brennan, Alison Burke, A.J. Cann, A. T. Holycross, Gary Nafis, Jim Rorabaugh, and Joel Sartore. Thanks to Melody Olander for filming and production assistance.

For updates on the project, visit our Facebook page or follow Evan and Nick on Twitter.

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Fast Facts

Project Description
The objective of our project is to discover the history of Bd in Arizona and to understand the role Bd has played in shaping current leopard frog communities in Arizona. Our project will be the first intensive survey of historical museum specimens collected in Arizona.If we find Bd in historic specimens, we can begin to build a picture of what brought it to the state and what mechanisms allowed it to spread.  This information will be used to generate effective conservation actions for amphibians in Arizona. Additionally, this study will help the international community to prevent the introduction of Bd to naïve host populations and to identify what can be done to stop the spread of this deadly pathogen.

Threat
The potential eruption of the Cotopaxi Volcano could wipe out the last remaining population of this Critically Endangered Species.

RGLF_1

Team Members
Evan Bio

Evan Brus

Nick Bio

Nick Massimo

The Partner
Arizona State University

Funded 24%

Your donation will make an immediate, real, and lasting impact. As a global alliance with partners generous enough to cover our operational costs, we are able to channel 100% of your donations directly to helping save these amphibians.

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