Deformed frogs form when parasites and pesticides combine

Deformities in Pennsylvania wood frogs are linked to a parasite infection combined with a weakened immune system caused by pesticide exposure, according to a study to be published in the 9 July issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research, supported by a grant from the Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program, and jointly administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), includes the first experimental studies of amphibian deformities conducted in ponds where the animals live. The discoveries, which show the effect of environmental stress on disease outbreaks, may help to explain how disease affects the distribution, growth, development, and survival of frogs.

"Frog, toad, and salamander populations have been declining on a worldwide basis for the past several decades," says Sam Scheiner, program director in NSF's division of environmental biology. "These declines may be a warning of an overall decline in the health of the environment. By understanding the link between pesticides and parasite infection, we can better manage the environment and improve human health."

It is not uncommon now for 20 to 30 percent of the frogs at many locations to have limb deformities, says Joseph Kiesecker, a biologist at Penn State and the leader of the research team. Since the early 1990s, when school children and amateur naturalists first began finding frogs with deformed legs in U. S. wetlands, scientists have been trying to determine the reason for the problem's escalation. These deformities in frogs resemble the deformities in human caused decades ago by the drug thalidomide. "Both the general public and scientists suspect that whatever is causing these problems in frogs may also cause harm to humans," Kiesecker says.

The Kiesecker team designed experiments to test hypotheses regarding the relationship between pesticides, trematode parasites, and limb deformities in fro

Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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