Climate Change Is Making Frogs Sick

19 November 2006


On the show a few weeks ago, we heard about frogs communicating to each other with ultrasound, but sadly these week I have rather more gloomy frog news - it seems that climate change is making European frogs very sick. A team of Herptologists lead by Jaime Bosch at the National Museum of Natural Science in Madrid has studied midwife toads living in Spain's Penalara Natural Park where they used to thrive but now are virtually extinct. The team looked back through records kept of the midwife toads going back 26 years, and compared them to meteorological data covering the same time period. And what they found was that rising air temperatures between 1976 and 2002 were very strongly linked to the impact of a deadly fungus on the toads. The chytrid fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis interferes with the toad's ability to stop themselves drying out. With their thin moist skins, frogs and toads are incredibly susceptible to changes in global temperature, and it's thought that the increasingly warm dry conditions may allow this fungus to survive over winter when previously it would have died out. This is the first evidence for a European species being wiped out by a disease linked to climate change, although the fungus is already known to be the culprit for amphibian declines in Australia and South America. Since the 1980s, the disease has killed 74 out 100 harlequin frog species in C and S America alone. It's not obvious why these fungal diseases have spread so rapidly and so devastatingly around the world, but the pet trade may be partly to blame. And the really bad news is that trying to save frogs and toads inside protected nature parks like the one in Spain, is not going to be enough to ensure their survival in the face of climate change.


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