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 out this week 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—most of which are found only in Madagascar.

Mantella cowani 1

Mantella cowani © Franco Andreone

We reached out to a few of the paper’s authors to talk about what it felt like to make this discovery and whether they’re hopeful conservationists will be able to slow the spread of the fungal disease. This four part blog series will feature reactions from:

Franco Andreone, co-chair of the Amphibian Specialist Group-Madagascar of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As ASG chair, Andreone is helping to coordinate mitigation actions and the national anti-chytrid strategy. He helped collect samples and planned and wrote the paper with the other co-authors.

Reid Harris, director of international disease mitigation for the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA). Harris’s lab was the first to provide data demonstrating that frog probiotics are a promising disease mitigation strategy. For this study, he worked with Bletz and the Chytrid Emergency Cell to conceptualize Bletz’s frog probiotic project in Madagascar. Harris also helped obtain funding and participated in the first field-sampling trip in August of 2013.

Molly Bletz, Ph.D. student at the Technische Universitat Braunschweig. Bletz sampled wild amphibian communities in Madagascar for this study, performed laboratory-based Bd detection analysis, and wrote the manuscript. “This study was an immense group effort that would not have happened without the devotion and collaboration of many,” Bletz says.

Angelica Crottini, researcher at the InBIO associate laboratory at the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO/InBIO) at the University of Porto. Crottini is involved in numerous conservation activities in Madagascar and in 2010 co-organized and taught the workshop “Disease Screening in Amphibians” at Park Ivoloina (Tamatave, Madagascar). One of the results of the workshop was the launch of the National Monitoring Program for chytrid in Madagascar and the establishment of the Chytrid Emergency Cell. Crottini coordinated the chytrid screening analyses and contributed to fundraising to develop the project. Crottini worked with two other co-authors to conceive and design the study, analyze the data and write the paper.

Part 1: Franco Andreone

 Franco Andreone searching for tadpoles and amphibians in the Isalo National Park

Franco Andreone Searching for frogs and tadpoles in the Isalo National Park. Photo courtesy of Franco Andreone.

How did you develop your love of Malagasy frogs?

I began my activity of research and conservation on Malagasy frogs in the late ‘80s. I was always fascinated by the mix of African and Asian components in Madagascar, and by the richness of biodiversity present there.

What did you feel when you discovered Bd in Madagascar?

I was really desperate and upset because the presence of the chytrid fungus was something really worrying. And knowing the huge extension of Madagascar and its problems in terms of habitat and species conservation, this was one more trouble against the wonderful amphibians of that land.

What do you think is the most important action conservationists can take right now?

The best solution, I think, is to coordinate a response action, and convince the environmental agencies present in Madagascar to collaborate on such conservation action. Protecting Malagasy amphibians is not just a matter for zoologists, but it concerns the quality of human life: where amphibians are still present, the environment is much better.

Are you hopeful that conservationists will be able to stop the spread? Why?

I don’t know if this will be possible in the short term, but for sure we can play an important role in reducing the impact of this pathogen.

Boophis sp. Night Coloration_001

Boophis sp. © Franco Andreone

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