A lethal fungus that causes heart failure in amphibians, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd, has been spreading rapidly in Africa, devastating amphibian populations. This fungus is not novel to the global scene, as it has been identified on five continents, except Antarctica, but its recent surge in Africa has been a source of great concern among researchers. Prevalence rates were recorded at less than 5% in the 1900s on the continent but soared to around 20% in the early 2000s.
Chytridiomycosis, a disease that leads to heart failure in amphibians and decimates the number of populations of endangered species such as frogs and salamanders, has been linked to the fungus. Studies show that it is capable of significantly contributing to the loss of biodiversity across the globe. The fungus feeds on the skin of amphibians, causing the skin to suffocate and, in turn, lead to heart failure. Its mode of transmission is described as voracious, as it can travel via the soil, water, and the movement of infected host species. Its swift and rampant spread across Africa is a significant source of concern for scientists, and some have dubbed it an ecological catastrophe.
While it is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the recent surge, one possible explanation for the expansion of the fungus in Africa is due to trade and the movement of people into previously untouched areas, led by the increase of commercial and industrial activities. Unfortunately, these activities have spread the pathogen into new territories, leading some scientists to warn that more regions are at risk of decimating amphibian populations. Researchers relied on museum collections to gather information about the fungus's presence in Africa. They carefully tested nearly 3000 specimens collected within the last century, alongside records from the past 150 years, testing skin swabs from 1651 live amphibians, and the results were startling. The researchers found that the fungus kept a low profile in Africa in the 1900s, but that changed in the early 2000s.
The implications of the fungus spreading unrestricted could lead to disastrous consequences for amphibians and the environment. Therefore, researchers believe that more data about the African amphibians is necessary, as measures taken to mitigate the spread of the fungus require more informed decisions. If the right steps are taken, managers can use the data gathered by researchers to identify vulnerable species and plan conservation efforts to prevent further degradation of the environment.