I’ve been reading about froggy problems for years now: how researchers find frogs and other amphibians with extra legs or gender problems. How they find ponds and rivers full of dead frogs. How for years nobody could figure out what was really going on. And then in the mid-1990s, scientists discovered the culprit: a fungus called chytridiomycosis (chytrid) that has now been documented on every continent where frogs live.
One really sad fact about chytrid? Infected tadpoles survive. But as soon as they become adults, they die from the fungus.
Of course, chytrid isn’t the only problem frogs face. Habitat loss, invasive species, new competition (for example, the introduction of fish that eat tadpoles to a lake that formerly had no fish), and most important (I think), water pollution made life difficult for frogs and made them more susceptible to the fungus.
Why is water pollution most important? Because of something called “endocrine disrupters.” An endocrine disrupter is anything that binds to sites in the body that normally accept hormones like estrogen or progesterone. It could be the estrogen that just got flushed down the toilet after a woman on birth control went to the bathroom. (I was on the pill for more than 20 years, so I was one of those women.) But it could also be a pesticide or herbicide from a farm or a suburban lawn. Many of their breakdown products are endocrine disrupters.
The April 2009 issue of National Geographic has an article about all the problems amphibians face. It also discusses a few solutions that have been implemented on a small scale in a few locations. A scientist named Vrendenburg, who works in the Sierra Nevada of California, has had success treating frogs for fungal infection and returning them to the ponds where he captured them. Clearly, pulling frogs from a lake at 11,000 feet, treating them, and returning them to the lake is a labor-intensive solution.
So is Amphibian Ark, a project in which species in danger of extinction are kept in captivity until they can be reintroduced into the wild.
If this kind of restoration were implemented on the scale needed, it would probably solve unemployment all by itself, but who would pay for it?