By Lauren Sommer
6 September 2016

(KQED) – A deadly fungus that’s been devastating frog populations is still spreading across the globe. In California, the chytrid fungus has moved inexorably across the Sierra Nevada from west to east, leaving thousands of frogs dead.

But Bay Area scientists are trying to turn the tide against the fungus with an experimental treatment, one that could matter to frogs worldwide.

They’re making a last-ditch effort to save the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog by immunizing it against chytrid.

Mountain yellow-legged frogs, found only in California’s alpine lakes, have been in steep decline due to the fungus as well as predation by non-native trout. More than 90 percent of the population has disappeared.

“When it hits, it’s within weeks that they’re just gone, just literally gone,” says Jessie Bushell, director of conservation at the San Francisco Zoo.

Bushell is part of an emergency search-and-rescue operation for the frogs.  Like last summer, when she got up before dawn and drove five hours to meet a helicopter flying out of the Sierra Nevada.

“This bright yellow helicopter comes landing down,” she says. “The doors fly open. The firefighters start unloading these large white coolers.”

Mountain yellow-legged frog populations im California have declined by more than 90 percent. Photo: Lauren Sommer / KQED

The coolers were holding hundreds of wiggling, green tadpoles, the sole survivors of a deadly outbreak at their remote alpine lake. Federal biologists had found dozens of frogs dying from chytrid fungus and, hoping to save the species, had collected their remaining young. […]

“It’s the best chance that we know how to give them,” says Roland Knapp, a biologist with UC Santa Barbara who has tracked frog die-offs across the Sierra as the chytrid wave has moved through.

“I saw the biggest one I’ve ever seen last summer,” he says. “Thousands of dying frogs. Carcasses of frogs all over the place. It was pretty rough to see.” […]

“We’re staring at what could be the extinction of a significant fraction of the world’s amphibians,” Knapp says. “So if we can do something to reverse that, even for a few species here and there, we should try to do that.” [more]

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