Amphibian disease research yields weapon

Aug. 26, 2011 at 5:43 PM   |   Comments

CORVALLIS, Ore., Aug. 26 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've found a freshwater species of zooplankton that can consume a fungal pathogen devastating amphibian populations around the world.

Zoologists at Oregon State University say the tiny zooplankton, called Daphnia magna, could provide a desperately needed tool for biological control of the deadly fungus, whose impact one researcher has called "the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history."

The fungus B. dendrobatidis, dubbed a "chytrid" fungus, can disrupt electrolyte balance and lead to death from cardiac arrest in its amphibian hosts if it reaches high levels, an OSU release said Friday.

"There was evidence that zooplankton would eat some other types of fungi, so we wanted to find out if Daphnia would consume the chytrid fungus," lead researcher Julia Buck, an OSU doctoral student in zoology, said. "Our laboratory experiments and DNA analysis confirmed that it would eat the zoospore, the free-swimming stage of the fungus.

"We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that," she said. "Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go."

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