“Global warming is wreaking havoc on amphibians, and soon will cause staggering losses of biodiversity”. These are the words of J Alan Pounds, lead scientist in a new study that has provided clear proof that global warming is causing outbreaks of an infectious fungal disease that is wiping out entire frog populations around the world. “Disease is the bullet that is killing the frogs but climate change is pulling the trigger.”
The Global Amphibian Assessment, published in 2004, found that almost one-third of the planet’s 6,000 species of toads, frogs and salamanders face extinction, more than any other group of animals. The alarmingly fast disappearance of some species has triggered intensive investigations, and new research using records of sea-surface and air temperatures has shown that the disappearance of brightly coloured harlequin frogs in central America is directly linked to climate change.
Scientists from nine Latin American countries collaborated to provide a database of harlequin frog observations for the study. Over 70 of the 110 known species of these frogs became extinct in the 1980s and 90s.
Cooler days and warmer nights on the frog’s tropical mountain homes have favoured the spread of the chytrid fungus, which infects tadpoles and eventually attacks the skin of adult frogs and kills them. The fungus is thought to have been spread around the world by the use of live African clawed toads (platannas) in pregnancy tests in the 1930s and 40s.