A fungus has massacred frogs and salamanders around the world for decades by eating their skins alive. A global team of 41 scientists published a new study in Science March 28, confirming the fungus has caused more damage to global biodiversity than any other disease ever recorded.
The study measured the damage done by the chytrid fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). National Geographic reports that researchers found the fungi have caused declines in at least 501 amphibian species, or about one out of every 16 known to scientists.
Of the affected species, 90 have gone extinct and 124 species have declined in number by more than 90%. All but one of the 501 declines were caused by Bd.
Human activity in the early 20th century, namely war and trade, lead to a spread of the fungus around the world that allowed it to evolve and become highly virulent. Since Bd can infect at least 695 species, it is extremely effective at spreading.
Ecologists have known the fungus was dangerous, but the results of the study show exactly how destructive it is. In terms of biodiversity loss, that puts it on the same scale as rats, cats and other invasive species, according to study leader Ben Scheele.
The study indicates counts are conservative, due to a lack of evidence for declines from the 1950s and 1960s in Europe and North America.
Despite the dismal outlook of the study, researchers hope it will encourage changes to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Amphibian sanctuaries may serve as genetic lifeboats for many species on the brink of extinction.
Researchers admit it is impossible to reverse the damage Bd has already done, but decreasing the global trade of wild amphibians can work to limit the Bd pandemic.