Scientists warn a skin-eating fungal plague is silently ripping through wildlife across Africa

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A deadly, skin-eating fungus has been spreading rapidly through African wildlife since the turn of the century, scientists warned on Wednesday, shedding light on an unnoticed amphibian plague that has killed or nearly killed more species than any other pathogen and now even more is at risk wipe out on the African continent.

Important facts

volBatrachochytrium dendrobatidis– is a highly contagious fungus that kills frogs, toads, salamanders and other amphibians by attacking the skin and causing heart attacks, and likely existed in amphibian populations for decades before human activities, most likely the wildlife trade, inadvertently spread it around the world spread.

Although Bd, which has been described as the worst disease on record, has wiped out hundreds of amphibian species around the world and caused the decline of hundreds more, species living in Africa were thought to have escaped the scourge.

On the contrary, a study published Wednesday in Frontiers in Conservation Science suggests that Bd is already firmly established across Africa and has simply gone unnoticed.

Although isolated Bd cases could be detected from the early 1930s, the fungal infection really began to spread across the continent in 2000, and about a decade later more than 20% of specimens tested positive for the infection, in some cases by as much 74% regions.

The researchers said the findings – which are consistent with some reports of amphibian die-offs and extinctions – suggest the fungus has been overlooked rather than absent, and indicate a serious threat to Africa’s diverse amphibian species, with those in the central east and western regions of Africa are most at risk.

In areas where the fungus has been more closely monitored, Bd has killed or nearly killed hundreds of amphibian species and caused population declines in more than 500 species, making it the worst pathogen in history in terms of biodiversity.

What to look out for

Amphibians are more important than most people realize, and losing them could have dire consequences. Most notably, amphibians are key species in many ecosystems, meaning their loss can dramatically change the environment for the worse. These downstream consequences can have major impacts such as: B. A dramatic increase in malaria cases as there are fewer frogs to keep mosquitoes at bay. Biodiversity is also a major driver of innovation, especially medicine, and as more species are lost, the fewer opportunities we have to learn from them. For example, salamanders — which have the remarkable ability to regrow tissue, organs, or even limbs — are being studied to find new ways to treat serious wounds.

What we don’t know

It is not clear why Bd did not appear in Africa until 2000, much later than other continents and decades after other parts of the world had reported major Bd outbreaks. It could just be coincidence, said study author Vance Vredenburg, a professor at San Francisco State University and the University of California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley. Increased air travel of people and cargo, which could help transport and spread the fungus, “is also a culprit,” Vredenburg suggested. Climate change could also play a role, Vredenburg said, possibly by making amphibians more susceptible to infection or making the environment more hospitable to the fungus.

Crucial quote

The rapid rise in Bd in 2000 may indicate that the fungus is already driving back amphibian populations in Africa, Vredenburg said. “Amphibian extinctions may already be happening in Africa without anyone knowing about it,” Vredenburg added. Although eliminating the pathogen will be impossible, Vredenburg said knowing how and when it spreads could save affected amphibian species. Given that it “appears to be people-driven globally, we have a moral imperative to step in and try to manage and mitigate whenever possible,” Vredenburg said.

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