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The megadiverse frog communities of Madagascar are at risk after the discovery of a potentially devastating fungus.
The parasitic fungus, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has already caused a precipitous decline in frog populations in Central America, Australia, the western United States, Europe and east Africa.
Its discovery in Madagascar is extremely concerning, since the country is home to around 7% of the world’s amphibian species, the vast majority of which are endemic; in fact, of the more than 400 frog species in Madagascar, only two can be found anywhere else in the world.
An international team of experts screened more than 4,100 amphibians and confirmed the presence of Bd in five locations across Madagascar. The paper’s authors are now trying to determine whether the fungus they have detected is the same deadly strain that is threatening a third of the planet’s amphibians.
Although this news is alarming, the Amphibian Survival Alliance (of which Fauna & Flora International is a member) believes we can prevent the mass die-offs seen in other countries by taking rapid action.
“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,” said Reid Harris, co-author on the paper and director of international disease mitigation for the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA).
In November 2014, the ASA helped bring together local and international experts to develop a conservation strategy for the amphibians of Madagascar. At this meeting, scientists set out an emergency response plan and national protocols to deal with this emerging crisis.
Among other actions, they discussed the possibility of building up captive populations of priority species to help them weather the storm.
This approach proved necessary in Dominica and Montserrat when monitoring systems established by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and government partners registered a sudden collapse in the number of mountain chickens when Bd first reached these Caribbean islands in 2002 and 2009 respectively.
Mountain chickens are huge frogs that bark like dogs, nest in burrows and feed their 15-centimetre tadpoles on eggs. Thankfully, some of these remarkable animals were taken into captivity in time to ensure their survival.
“The loss of Madagascan amphibians is not only important for herpetologists and frog researchers – it would be a huge loss for the whole world,” said Franco Andreone, co-chair of the IUCN’s Amphibian Specialist Group in Madagascar and co-author on the paper.
“Everyone has a role to play if this mammoth of a conservation project is going to succeed.”
Adding to this, FFI’s Jenny Daltry said, “With the ever-increasing movement of people and cargo around the world, invasive alien species like Bd are spreading faster and farther than ever before.
“All of us who travel must take greater care to avoid spreading such organisms ourselves. Remember: one muddy shoe or tyre is all it takes to transmit Bd into the habitats of sensitive amphibians that could be wiped out by this devastating fungus.”
The ASA is coordinating funding for the monitoring of Bd in Madagascar and supporting the development of disease mitigation tools. The group has called on conservation-minded individuals to help in these efforts by visiting amphibians.org.
For more information, read the ASA press release.