Conservationists worldwide mobilize to address emerging threat to more than 500 Malagasy frog species

The amphibian fungus known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has caused the precipitous decline of frog populations in Central America, Australia, the western United States, Europe and east Africa, has now been detected in Madagascar, according to a new paper released today in the journal Scientific Reports. The paper documents the detection of Bd since 2010 in wild Malagasy amphibians and has spurred conservationists to action in a country that is home to about seven percent of the world’s amphibian species.

“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 (ASA). “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.”

An international team of experts screened more than 4,100 amphibians across Madagascar and confirmed the presence of Bd in five locations across Madagascar. The researchers detected the fungus as early as 2010 in Madagascar’s remote Makay Massif. Now the paper’s authors are working on determining whether the fungus they have detected belongs to the same deadly strain that is threatening to cause the loss of more than 1/3 of the planet’s amphibians.

“Ninety-nine percent of the frogs in Madagascar are only found in Madagascar,” said Falitiana Rabemananjara, coordinator of the Chytrid Emergency Cell in Madagascar and co-author on the paper. “That means that if the Bd presence in Madagascar is lethal or becomes lethal to frogs, we could lose a significant portion of the world’s amphibian diversity. With an integrative, proactive approach, we are going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”

In November of 2014, the ASA provided financial support for ACSAM2 “A Conservation Strategy for the Amphibians of Madagascar,” the second meeting in the last decade to bring together local and international conservationists to address threats to Madagascar’s amphibians. This year’s meeting focused on developing a plan for this emerging crisis, which includes:

  • The development of an emergency response strategy for the amphibians of Madagascar.
  • The identification of the Bd lineage(s) and characterization of its virulence.
  • The establishment of a national protocol and permit to collect dead frogs from the field.
  • Building captive assurance populations of priority species to weather the storm.

“The loss of Malagasy amphibians is not only important for herpetologists and frog researchers,” said Franco Andreone co-chair of the Amphibian Specialist Group-Madagascar of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), organizer of ACSAM2 and co-author on the paper. “It would be a huge loss for the whole world. Everyone has a role to play if this mammoth of a conservation project is going to succeed.”

The ASA is continuing to coordinate funding for the monitoring of Bd in Madagascar and is also supporting the development of disease mitigation tools. The ASA calls on conservation-minded individuals to help in these efforts by taking action today.

Photo: The Painted mantella (Mantella baroni) is an iconic Malagasy frog species and one of more than 500 that could be in the path of a potentially deadly fungal disease. Photo © Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

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