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Deadly disease striking amphibians may have wiped out Darwin's frogs

Nov. 22, 2013 at 6:21 PM   |   Comments

LONDON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A deadly fungal disease of amphibians may bring the extinction of Darwin's frogs, an iconic South American species, British and Chilean researchers say.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London and Universidad Andres Bello in Chile say the disease, chytridiomycosis, is believed to be contributing to the plummeting population and disappearance from most of their habitat of the two Dawin's species, the northern Rhinoderma rufum endemic to Chile and the southern Rhinoderma darwinii from Chile and Argentina.

Numbers of the southern species have dropped, and the northern example is suspected of being extinct, the researchers said.

"Only a few examples of the 'extinction by infection' phenomenon exist," Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society said. "Although not entirely conclusive, the possibility of chytridiomycosis being associated with the extinction of the northern Darwin's frog gains further support with this study."

Darwin's frogs have a distinct appearance, having evolved to look like a leaf, with a pointy nose, and were named after Charles Darwin who first discovered R. darwinii in 1834 in south Chile during his famous voyage around the globe.

"Amphibians have inhabited the earth for 365 million years, far longer than mammals," Chilean researcher Claudio Soto-Azat said. "We may have already lost one species, the Northern Darwin's frog, but we cannot risk losing the other one. There is still time to protect this incredible species."

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