Video: In the rainforests of Central America, a research team studies a skin disease that may be the tipping point for amphibian life on the planet.
As the clock ticks, populations of endangered species decline and threaten the functioning of healthy ecosystems.
Pollution, hunting, habitat degradation, climate change, and invasive species have dealt blows to global biodiversity. Climate change alone is putting one in six species on Earth at risk of extinction, according to a meta-analysis of 131 published studies in the journal Science.
Virginia Tech researchers from multiple colleges and disciplines, many affiliated with the Fralin Life Science Institute, are doing what they can to save populations of endangered species, including honeybees, frogs, and the horned anole lizard.
In the rainforests of Central America, a research team studies a skin disease that may be the tipping point for amphibian life on the planet. A disease caused by chytrid fungus already threatens about 500 frog species. The disease disrupts frog skin, potentially resulting in death.
“Chytrid fungus is responsible for many amphibian population declines and extinctions across the world, causing scientists to claim it to be the root of the greatest disease-associated loss of biodiversity in recorded history,” said Lisa Belden, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science and faculty member with Virginia Tech’s new Global Change Center. “The disease has already contributed to the decline of the Panamanian golden frog, which is now thought to be extinct in the wild.”
Belden’s team is interested in how a frog’s skin microbiome, or the collection of bacteria on its skin, helps it survive chytrid fungus exposure.
Two of Belden’s doctoral students, who are also Fellows with the Interfaces of Global Change program, travel to Panama to collect microbiome samples from frogs living in the rainforests.
Angie Estrada of Panama City, Panama, investigates how chytrid fungus infection varies during wet and dry seasons in the lowlands of central Panama.
“Some species of frog seem to be doing well at a few sites, while disappearing from many other sites,” Estrada said. “I want to try to understand why they persist and what is special about these sites so that we can try to mimic that success in other places.”
Daniel Medina, also of Panama City, examines how amphibian skin microbes affect chytrid fungus in low and high elevations. Frogs in warmer, lower elevations are generally able to withstand infection better than those in cooler, higher elevations.