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Darwin's frogs are close to extinction

Darwin's frogs are being threatened by the chytrid fungus, which has devastated amphibian species worldwide.

By Ananth Baliga
Researchers believe one of the species of Darwin's frogs may be extinct, wiped out by the chytrid fungus, which is deadly to amphibians. (Credit: Zoological Society of London)
Researchers believe one of the species of Darwin's frogs may be extinct, wiped out by the chytrid fungus, which is deadly to amphibians. (Credit: Zoological Society of London)

Nov. 22 (UPI) -- One of the two species of Darwin's frogs, the northern Darwin's frog, is likely extinct due to the chytrid fungus, which has infected the species since the 1970s.

The southern Darwin's frog is also on the decline, more rapidly than previously thought. The northern Darwin's frog hasn't been seen since 1980 and Marcus Rowcliffe, a researcher at the Zoological Society of London, said that the fungus was the most likely cause for its disappearance.

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“Amphibians have inhabited the earth for 365 million years, far longer than mammals. 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," said lead researcher Dr. Claudio Soto-Azat.

The chytrid fungus, formally known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is for the first time linked to the disappearance of a well-known species in the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Researchers have found that populations of the species are low in the areas with a higher prevalence of the fungus. Only a small percentage of the southern Darwin's frogs were infected, but their low numbers have led researchers to believe the fungus is more lethal in this particular species, whereas other species could live longer with the disease.

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The fungus may have been spread to Chile by African clawed frogs, brought to the region to be used in pregnancy tests. These frogs laid eggs when injected with pregnant women's urine.

Darwin’s frogs were named after Charles Darwin who first discovered R. darwinii in 1834 in south Chile during his famous voyage around the globe. These frogs are the only species where the male can get pregnant and hold the young in a compartment in their mouth until the tadpoles mature.

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