For 15 years, scientists have been battling to discover how to save one of the world’s most threatened species, the giant ‘mountain chicken frog’ (Leptodactylus fallax), from a devastating disease, chytridiomycosis. On Tuesday 11th April, ZSL is hosting an event to discuss the world leading research carried out by these scientists and introduce the star of the show, the mountain chicken. Conservation Scientist Dr Mike Hudson explains further.
Amphibian chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease caused by the fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has driven the decline and even extinction of hundreds of species globally and has been described as ‘the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates’. Chytridiomycosis driven declines are often so fast that entire populations disappear before conservationists are able to intervene.
Despite the devastating impact of the disease, the only successful mitigations of chytridiomycosis have been achieved in captivity, with few attempts to transfer them to the field where they are needed the most. The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (MCRP) is breaking the mould. The MCRP is a collaborative project between European wildlife NGOs and Zoos alongside national governments. It was formed in response to the decline of the mountain chicken frog, one of the fastest declines ever recorded. Since 2009, scientists from the MCRP have trialled two novel field-based programmes aimed at mitigating the impacts of the disease, and carried out the first species range wide study on the impact of the disease on a species decline and its impact on genetics.
The mountain chicken is a fantastic species of frog, found on only two islands in the Caribbean, Dominica and Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles. It has very interesting life history characteristics, including parental care of tadpoles to a level almost unheard of in an amphibian. It also has a cultural importance which includes appearances on business and school logos and even the Dominica national crest, the island on which it was also previously the national dish. The species is also ecologically important as a top predator on both islands with a diet that includes tarantulas and small snakes, meaning its decline has likely had severe ecological ramifications.
The mountain chicken is also a great model species. Compared to other species, it is relatively easy to study, being large bodied, singing loudly during breeding season and important to the people on the islands on which it is found. The valuable data gained from MCRP field trials can be transferred to the hundreds of other species worldwide that continue to be threatened by this devastating disease.
So please join us for an evening of science at the forefront of the battle to save amphibians from chytridiomycosis driven extinction.
‘Conserving the mountain chicken, the impact of chytridiomycosis under scrutiny’ is a free event, taking place at ZSL London Zoo at 6pm on April 11th.
Dr Mike Hudson is a Conservation Scientist at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and is part of the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme on both Dominica and Montserrat. He recently completed his PhD on chytridiomycosis in the mountain chicken with University of Kent, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Durrell.
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