Biologists have warned that the entire population of the world's frogs and other amphibians could be wiped out like the dinosaurs by a deadly fungus within three decades.
According to a report in the Scotsman, a strain of the chytrid virus that kills frogs, toads, newts and other amphibians could spell the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.
AdvertisementThe chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, infects all kinds of amphibians and causes the fatal disease chytridiomycosis.
Scientists first noticed the alarming number of amphibians under threat about 15 years ago. But it was not until the late 1990s that it was discovered the chytrid fungus was to blame.
It is believed the deadly fungus originated in South Africa, and spores were then spread by the commercial trade in African clawed frogs, which were used as an early pregnancy test.
Some notorious pest species, including the cane toad, American bullfrog and African clawed frog, have resistance and have been spreading it throughout the world.
"Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians, which are limbless, almost eel-like amphibians, are all under threat," said Iain Stephen of London Zoo. "The disease is very rapid. You can have a total die-off within weeks of its arrival," he added.
According to Stephen, there are 6,000 species of amphibians in the world and over two-thirds of them are in decline, which is a higher percentage than any other animal group.
"It's the biggest decline taking place on the planet. Over the next 20 or 30 years, we could be talking about the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs," he said.
In the past few years, more than 100 species of frogs have become extinct.
It is thought amphibians catch the disease from contact with each other, and from water containing the deadly spores. Their skin becomes discoloured and peels, they grow sluggish and lose their appetite.
According to Lucy Benyon, the wildlife information officer at amphibian charity Froglife, the disease has wiped out so many species already that it's possible it could wipe out all of them.
Benyon thinks that the fungus could also have an impact on birds and animals that eat frog spawn, and the populations of insects kept in check by amphibians.
In fact, their extinction would have a knock-on effect on the ecosystem, according to Benyon.
Stephen thinks that rescue programmes in zoos are the best option to save the amphibians.
"Zoos have an important part to play to stop the extinction. All zoos are working out how to accommodate and care for a much bigger number of amphibians than usual," he said.