Chytrid fungus a possible threat to Island frogs

A killer fungus known as chytrid, which has caused the death of approximately 200 species of frogs worldwide, has been found in P.E.I.

A group of researchers found traces of the fungus as they spent the summer travelling to ponds throughout the province.  The fungus is seen as the root of the worse case of mass extinction in history.

The spread of chytrid originated in 1934 when South African clawed frogs were imported to North America and became a popular test subject for pregnancy test research. The American bull frog, which can also carry the fungus, made it a worldwide problem when frog legs became a popular culinary export.

Humans can also spread the fungus when travelling through different habitats. Something as simple as mud on a boot can contain traces of chytrid. The fungus is not a threat to humans however.

Assistant biology professor at UPEI Natacha Hogan was one of the researchers here.

The research team would spend every day to every second day sampling several ponds from west of O’Leary to Souris, she said

“We swabbed several frogs from each pond we visited and sent the swabs to a lab in Washington.”

The lab performed what is known as a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test on the swab samples. The tests revealed 26.3 per cent of frogs on P.E.I. tested positive for chytrid. Froglets are also 4.5 per cent more likely to have the fungus than older frogs.

It is a form of bacteria within the fungus that is killing the frogs and it is impossible to treat frogs who live in the wild, Hogan said.

“There could possibly be a way of treating frogs which live in a laboratory setting, however there isn’t a cure for chytrid at this time.”

The  fungus came up in a recent speech in Charlottetown. Dr. Maria Forzan was a keynote speaker during the opening night of Amphibian Week at the Atlantic Veterinary College on Oct. 5.

Chytrid spreads through the body, casuing an electrolyte imbalance, and respiration problems, since frogs breathe through their skin, she said.

“Tadpoles can also carry chytrid but they carry it in their mouths rather than their skin. Chytrid causes the tadpoles to develop with mouth deformities and behaviour changes.

“Tadpoles with chytrid tend to be more prone to panic attacks, which gives them a better chance to escape predators. It is fortunate for them to be able to escape but it is unfortune they survive long enough to spread the disease.”

The extreme tempratures in P.E.I. may determine whether the frogs live or die, said Forzan.

“The heat during the summer months and the cold during the winter months could keep the bacteria from spreading.”

Hogan said it is too soon to determine the effects of chytrid in P.E.I. due to this being the first year of testing.

“The effects of the chytrid spread is something that must be monitored for a number of years.”

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