A new fungal disease appears to be responsible for mass deaths in frog populations in Australia and Panama.
Australian researchers from CSIRO Australian Animal Heath Laboratory in Geelong and James Cook University in Townsville were first to find the new fungus in 10 frog species and have shown that the fungus kills frogs in laboratory trials.
A similar fungus was found on amphibians in Panama last year.
In the last two decades there have been many reports of frog population crashes around the world. Some are clearly due to pollution and other environmental changes. The idea has emerged that frog disappearances are an early indication of environmental degradation.
The areas where this fungus was found include areas that are "pristine". Population crashes have been observed here in relatively pristine areas of tropical Queensland rainforest. Similar sudden declines have occurred in protected mountainous rainforest areas in Central and South America.
An international team of scientists has been collaborating to solve this problem. The Australians have been working with researchers in the UK and USA. They've found evidence that a new fungal disease is causing mass mortalities in amphibian populations in both Australia and Panama. In 1993 the suspect was first found in Australia at the Melbourne Zoo and in the wild in forests near Cooktown in Northern Queensland.
Dr Lee Berger and Dr Alex Hyatt, from CSIRO AAHL in Geelong began investigating the issue in 1995 with Dr Rick Speare, from James Cook University, Townsville.
"We found that this fungus invades the superficial layers of the skin, causing damage to the keratin layer on the skin surface," says Dr Berger. "As frogs drink and breathe through their skin, the fungus may kill the frogs by disrupting these mechanisms"