I’m a conservation biologist and academic researcher, looking at ways to protect amphibians from the devastating chytridiomycosis disease (chytrid). This fungus has been associated with major population declines and extinctions of amphibians around the world, recently even reaching isolated populations in Madagascar.
There is not yet a cure for this disease in the wild, but we’re looking into the use of ‘probiotics’. We want to understand whether probiotic bacteria could prove effective against different strains of chytrid fungus. This will help to guide conservationists when using probiotics.
During my PhD at the University of Manchester, my field- work was based, among other places, at Las Cuevas Research Station in the Chiquibul Rainforest of Belize. Frogs in this area were of interest as some species have shown resilience despite the long term presence of the disease in the area.
It’s here that we collected two species of frogs: the red-eyed tree frog and its critically endangered ‘cousin’, the Morelet’s tree frog.
We swabbed the frogs’ skin and isolated out the friendly bacteria that live there and protect them from infectious diseases, including the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.
We found that in fact, very few bacteria were able to kill multiple stains of chytrid, and that some strains were particularly resilient to bacterial inhibition.
This suggests that probiotics used for wild populations will need to be effective against the particular strain of chytrid in a given area, which may make the use of probiotics more complicated. It might be that using mixtures of bacteria could provide a more effective probiotic against the chytrid fungus.
A lot more work is needed to identify an effective cure for this devastating disease. But as a scientist I believe we not only have a moral obligation to keep searching, but an ecological one too. Amphibians inhabit the middle of food chain, making up a vital part of our ecosystem. If they go then that could spell disaster for many more species.
Select a blog
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Ever wondered what a typical day as a zookeeper looks like, or what it's like to be a videographer at ZSL? Now you can find out!
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
Get updates on our latest ranges, be the first to hear about special offers, and find the perfect gift for animal lovers!
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.