Saturday, February 19, 2011

Word beasts 8: Amphibian declines

Detail 1
I’ve written about this before. But I’ll quote myself to provide context to the images.

“ The Golden toad, a beautiful Costa Rican amphibian, was in trouble according to herpetologist Martha Crump's observations in 1987. We saw the last Golden toad in 1989. In two short years they disappeared.

There were many many reports after that talking about amphibian declines. Large numbers of once common frogs were simply disappearing, entire populations simply wiped out. Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' was transposed onto silent streams. Bruce Wilcox noted that between 1996 and 1998 of the 1874 backboned animals added to the Red List of Threatened Species, 1646 (89%) were amphibians! The statistics compiled in AmphibiaWeb also sound quite grim and this is not a resolved crisis. The causes for this decline are perhaps as complex and multiple as they were for the deformities. A large part of the decline is now believed to be explained by an epidemic of fungus. A fungus that is helped along by global warming.”

Stare frog flat3 small
Complete image

The fungus that I spoke of  belonged to a group of fungi called the chytrids, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Its been a cause of great concern to the amphibian community. There have been a few reports of treatments that may control it particularly one with topical Chloramphenicol, a common broad-spectrum antimicrobial, often present in simple topical OTC compounds.
While I think this is good, I wonder whether these are scalable solutions. One can hardly pour barrels of chloramphenicol into streams and ponds. You’re then left with dealing with capturing and treating animals individually which is well impractical when one thinks of the pandemic scale of the current problem. And even if deal with this pathogen, another might emerge. And we have little in place to control it.
We’re doing a lot to this planet that is new and the responsibility for what happens is ours, whether we think so or not, whether we want it or not. They’re watching what we do, they’re holdings us responsible.

Detail 2