Chytridiomycosis: an infectious disease that has deadly consequences for amphibians, is said to have spread through international trade routes. Do economic expansion and human diversity mean extinction for the amphibians?
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World Trade as progress or ecological catastrophe?
Dating back to the industrial revolution of the 19th century, Western political theorists, such as John Locke, optimistically theorized the relationship between the expansion of international trade, the growth of industrial manufacturing, and the spread of peace and the betterment of human standards of living.
As infamously documented with the outbreak of the smallpox virus in North American indigenous communities via the trade of blankets and other goods from Western European merchants. Ecological and social harmony is a delicate system.
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According to, now numerous, studies released in the last decade, a human spread fungus is decimating the amphibian species.
As a team of researcher's at the Institute of the One Health Research Group of James Cook University, attest: “Infectious diseases of wildlife are becoming increasingly important as globalization and environmental change are causing them to emerge and re-emerge.”
How is global trade linked to the problem?
The international team of researchers released studies on the spread of this fungus pathogen as early as 2009. Lead by four scientists in the One Health Research Group of the James Cook University, the origin of the pathogen was linked to a single strain in East Asia. The fungus is claimed to have spread through the expansion of the pet trade in amphibians – hence giving the pathogen ample geographic contact sites between a shared species of amphibians.
From this team, the senior research fellow, Dr. Lee Berger, has confirmed that the spread of the fungus has been due to lack of regulations in international biosecurity.
Further, their findings point to the fact that the circulation of the fungus is, in fact, a recent phenomenon – in contrast with some theories that it may have had an intercontinental life as far back as a thousand years.
Why is the fungus deadly?
According to the James Cook University research team, the fungus presents a lethal threat to the skin type of the amphibian species.
As they state: “The fungus infects the outer layers of the frog’s skin, and it was unclear as to why it is so deadly to a broad range of hosts. Our research has shown that infection with Bd causes electrolyte depletion and eventually results in cardiac arrest.”
The fungus is said to have already wiped out numerous amphibians. Will a species that dates back before the dinosaurs not survive the era of global trade? As Dr. Lee Berger argues, biosecurity is an essential measure if we are to resolve problems like this in the future.