A Model Toadlet

Recent field experiments focusing on a tiny, charismatic frog in southeastern Brazil are beginning to shed light on a disease that has decimated amphibian populations around the world.

Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis [Bd]) and the disease it causes has wiped out countless populations of frogs throughout the world. While its exact origins aren’t known, recent estimates suggest that chytrid disease has contributed to the decline of more than 500 amphibian species and led to as many as 90 extinctions globally. This devastation has wreaked havoc on entire ecosystems and left scientists and conservationists baffled and uncertain as the species and environments they’ve worked so hard to understand and protect have simply winked out.

While the disease is by no means under control, especially in Central and South America, some frogs appear to be at least somewhat resistant to it. And now researchers in Brazil and their collaborators at the California Academy of Sciences are studying some of these populations and conducting an ambitious field experiment designed to better understand factors that influence how chytrid fungus spreads and the severity of disease it causes.

Their research focus in this, the largest tract of Atlantic Forest in South America, less than 60 kilometers from Brazil’s largest city, is one of the region’s tiniest amphibian species and one of its most abundant: the pumpkin toadlet (Brachycephalus pitanga). The hope is that what they learn from studying this diminutive species will ultimately help them and other scientists and conservationists around the world predict and possibly prevent major chytrid outbreaks in the future.

Serra do Mar State Park, Brazil

Katie Garrett

Katie Garrett is a producer of natural history films that combine intimate cinematography with personal stories from people living and working alongside nature. With a degree in biology and background in the arts sector, she is particularly passionate about amphibian conservation. She has produced videos for online platforms such as National Geographic and Science Friday and her work has received accolades at festivals around the world, including winning 'Stories of Hope Short Form' at the 2022 World Wildlife Day Film Showcase.

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