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Climate change drives widespread amphibian extinctions

Results of a new study provide the first clear proof that global warming is causing outbreaks of an infectious disease that is wiping out entire frog populations and driving many species to extinction.

Published in the Jan. 12 issue of the journal Nature, the study reveals how the warming may alter the dynamics of a skin fungus that is fatal to amphibians. The climate-driven fungal disease, the author's say, has hundreds of species around the world teetering on the brink of extinction or has already pushed them into the abyss.

"Disease is the bullet that's killing the frogs," said J. Alan Pounds, the study's lead scientist affiliated with the Tropical Science Center's Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica. "But climate change is pulling the trigger. Global warming is wreaking havoc on amphibians, and soon will cause staggering losses of biodiversity," he said.

"The good news, if there is any, is the new findings will open up avenues of research that could provide scientists with the means to save the amphibians that still survive," said Bruce Young, a zoologist at NatureServe who took part in the study. "If this cloud has any silver lining, that's it."

The new theory for the frogs' decline "leaps over a major roadblock in our understanding," said Sam Scheiner, program director for the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s ecology of infectious diseases program, which funded the research. "This study demonstrates the complex nature of global climate change, including how climate affects the spread of disease, and why these must be integrated if we are to understand and reduce threats to species extinctions."

But the message goes beyond amphibians, says Scheiner: global warming and the accompanying emergence of infectious diseases are a real and immediate threat to biodiversity and a growing challenge for humankind.

The decline of amphibians in apparently pristine, protected habitats in Costa Rica and elsewhere ha
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
11-Jan-2006


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