Until recently Madagascar was one of the few places on Earth where scientists hadn’t yet detected the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd). Sadly, researchers report recently detecting Bd on frogs in Madagascar.
This is a tremendous cause for concern. Bd can be a highly deadly pathogen and has resulted in the loss of many amphibian species from around the world. Madagascar is home to around 400 species of amphibians, 99 percent of which don’t live anywhere else on the planet. The presence of Bd could mean the potential loss of hundreds of species, leaving a gaping hole in the global amphibian population. We may only have one shot to save the frogs Madagascar–we owe it to them and the people of Madagascar to try.
The Amphibian Survival Alliance is spearheading an international response to combat the fungus and ensure a future for the frogs of Madagascar. Our strategy involves an emergency response to prepare for the lethal impacts of the disease through rescue of endangered populations, captive breeding and probiotic mitigation, coupled with a long-term response to protect and manage critical tracts of habitats and build in-country capacity.
We are simultaneously pursuing the most promising techniques for mitigating the fungus in the wild. Researchers believe many frogs in Madagascar are especially at risk to Bd because of their behavior and the moist high-elevation habitats in which they live, and therefore need a bit of help to combat this fungus. Probiotic disease mitigation for wildlife is a new conservation frontier, and amphibians are at the leading edge of this novel research.
Research to identify effective probiotics for Malagasy frogs has been initiated in collaboration with the Chytrid Emergency Cell of Madagascar. In order to successfully and safely implement probiotic therapy as a conservation strategy, we stress that amphibian skin microbes from the local area must be used.
Our team is working to collect skin microbe samples from across Madagascar to identify potential probiotics. When sampling the frogs to identify effective probiotics for them, we are working toward the development of both species-specific probiotics for highly endangered frogs and community-based probiotics for frogs that live together in the same location. By sampling other members of the amphibian community, we will have a good chance of identifying candidate probiotics that exist on multiple frog species, and these can hopefully serve as community-based probiotics that can be administered to protect multiple frog species at once.
Amphibians of Madagascar, such as the Painted Mantella (Mantella baroni), Milne-Edwards’ Sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi) and Madagascar Bright-eyed Frog (Boophis madagascariensis)