Azara Blog: Link between amphibian disease and global warming

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Date published: 2006/10/25

The BBC says:

A fungal disease that threatens to wipe out many amphibians is thriving because of climate change, a study suggests.

Researchers studying amphibians at a national park in Spain show that rising temperatures are closely linked to outbreaks of the chytrid fungus.

Chytrid fungus is a major contributor to the decline of amphibian populations around the world, threatening many species with extinction.

Details are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"We have found an association between increasing temperatures and amphibian disease in a mountain region in Spain," said Dr Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London.
Dr Fisher and his Spanish colleagues uncovered an association between the emergence of the disease and global warming while studying changes in the number of midwife toads in Spain's Penalara Natural Park between 1976 and 2002.

The chytrid fungus, or BD as it is sometimes called, infects the skins of amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts and interferes with their ability to absorb water.

Dr Fisher said climate change could be worsening the impact of the disease in one of two ways.

Warming temperatures could be reducing the amphibians' ability to mount a successful immune response to the fungus. Amphibians are cold-blooded so their ability to respond to the pathogen could change along with the external temperature.

On the other hand, global warming could be increasing the fungus' ability to grow faster on the amphibian and cause more disease.

This has been suspected for some time, but the weasel words "we have found an association" are telling. Of course when everybody believes something then not only is it easy to get "associations" (i.e. correlations) published but everybody will also assume it means there is a causation (which there might well be).

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