4 August 2017: A University of Canberra researcher is part of a group of experts working to prevent the extinction of frogs that are under threat from a deadly fungus.
Distinguished Professor Arthur Georges, along with researchers from universities around Australia and the United States, is using the prestigious journal Science to call for greater action to protect frogs from Chytridiomycosis.
Chytridiomycosis is a deadly disease that affects amphibians worldwide. It is caused by the chytrid fungus and is thought to be responsible for the mass die-offs and species extinctions of frogs since the 1990s.
Professor Georges from the University’s Institute for Applied Ecology said more needs to be done to prevent the disease spreading to new areas around the world.
“We need to identify the likely avenues of spread of the disease, and the frog populations likely to be most affected if we are to bring best knowledge and practice to bear on this insidious pathogen,” Professor Georges said.
The deadly fungus infects frogs when their skin comes into contact with its spores.
These spores can be transported to new environments by humans particularly through footwear where new groups of frogs are exposed.
Professor Georges said the disease is yet to affect frogs in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and that improved bio-protection awareness and legislative changes such as importation bans could ensure the disease doesn’t gain a foothold there.
“Stopping the inexorable march of the chytrid fungus should it ever reach the island of PNG will be a challenge," he said.
“Our options for prevention are much more achievable than the cure. This work needs to be done now because if the fungus gets to PNG it may be too late to start."
PNG contains around six per cent of the world’s frog species that have not been exposed to chytrid fungus.
Other research and conservation actions identified by the researchers include genome storage of vulnerable species, assisted reproduction, and captive breeding to help populations recover if the disease gets loose.
The group of researchers are calling for collaborative efforts among scientists, legislators, policymakers, managers, extractive industries and local landowners to prevent chytrid establishing itself on PNG.
Lead author of the article, James Cook University’s Dr Deborah Bower, said rapid and concerted action is needed to protect the remaining chytrid-free populations.
“It is much easier and cheaper to conserve species before they are nearly gone,” Dr Bower said.
“Acting now will save many of the world’s frog species. It’s better to spend a penny now in prevention than a pound later on a cure.”