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Frogs find disease-free haven in New Guinea, scientists want to keep it that way

By
Brooks Hays
Many New Guinean frog species, including Sphenophryne cornuta, emerge from their eggs as fully-formed baby frogs, forgoing the tadpole stage. Photo by Stephen J. Richards
Many New Guinean frog species, including Sphenophryne cornuta, emerge from their eggs as fully-formed baby frogs, forgoing the tadpole stage. Photo by Stephen J. Richards

June 3 (UPI) -- The island of New Guinea in the Indonesian archipelago remains one of the last refuges free of chytrid fungus, a deadly frog infection that has already wiped out 90 frog species around the world.

The authors of a new study, published this week in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, have a plan to keep New Guinea disease free and its frog population healthy, but they say they need help.

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In the new paper, researchers laid out the steps that must be taken to keep the chytrid fungus off New Guinea.

"You don't often spot a conservation disaster before it happens and get the chance to stop it," Deborah Bower, researcher at the University of New England in Australia, said in a news release. "We know what needs to be done."

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The deadly fungal infection first emerged in East Asia, but it quickly spread to every continent as a result of the international pet trade. Today, nearly 40 percent of frogs are facing the threat of extinction.

Scientists aren't exactly sure how New Guinea and its resident frogs have remained disease free.

"A lot of New Guinea's frogs are closely related to Australian species that have been devastated by chytrid, so we expect they would be just as vulnerable," said Simon Clulow, researcher at Macquarie University in Australia. "Other New Guinea frog species are unusual because they hatch from eggs as fully formed frogs, rather than going through a tadpole stage, and we don't know how chytrid will affect them."

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Should chytrid make it to New Guinea, scientists estimate as many as 100 species would be threatened. Several studies have shown amphibians around the world continue to face record declines as a result of climate change, disease and environmental damages.

If the fungus does arrive on New Guinea, authors of the new study have developed a detailed plan -- including preparation, prevention, detection, response and recovery -- to minimize the impact on the island's frog populations.

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