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Extinctions linked to climate change

A new report that links global warming to the recent extinction of dozens of amphibian species in tropical America is more evidence of a large phenomena that may affect broad regions, many animal species and ultimately humans, according to researchers at Oregon State University.

A study being published Thursday in the journal Nature finds compelling evidence that global climate change created favorable conditions for a pathogenic fungus in Central and South America. That fungus, in turn, led to widespread extinctions of harlequin frogs at middle elevations of mountainous regions.

In a commentary article in that same publication, an OSU scientist who pioneered the study of global amphibian decline said this is another key example of unanticipated and complex impacts from climate change. The Central and South American crisis is "an amphibian alarm call," he said, but also is a harbinger of much greater biological disruption. What had been seen as an enigma is now understood as a complex relationship between global warming and major extinction of species.

"This new study is a breakthrough, and the powerful synergy between pathogen transmission and climate change should give us cause for concern about human health in a warmer world," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at OSU, in the Nature article. "As global change is occurring at an unprecedented pace, we should expect many other host taxa, from ants to zebras, to be confronted with similar challenges."

Very few of the current studies on biodiversity consider how climate affects disease dynamics, said Blaustein. Until the potential impacts of pathogens, parasites and other types of disease transmission are factored in, it will be difficult to accurately gauge the full effects of climate change, and its true impact on biodiversity will often be underestimated, he said.

Five years ago, in a study also published in Nature, OSU scientists documented another of the comp
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Contact: Andrew Blaustein
blaustea@science.oregonstate.edu
541-737-9869
Oregon State University
11-Jan-2006


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