Plague of Frogs

Starting in late 80s, herpetologists began noticing that various kinds of frogs were declining and/or disappearing. There was & is a geographical pattern: Wiki says “Declines have been particularly intense in the western United States, Central America, South America, eastern Australia and Fiji. ” Many were hard to understand in terms of human impact. “For example, the Golden toad (Bufo periglenes) endemic to Monteverde, Costa Rica, featured prominently. It was the subject of scientific research until populations suddenly crashed in 1987 and it had disappeared completely by 1989.[9] Other species at Monteverde, including the Monteverde Harlequin Frog (Atelopus varius), also disappeared at the same time. Because these species were located in the pristine Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and these extinctions could not be related to local human activities. ”

For a few years the herpetologists were concerned yet happy. Concerned, because many frog populations were crashing and some were going extinct. Happy, because confused puppies in Washington were giving them money, something that hardly ever happens to frogmen. The theory was that amphibians were ‘canaries in a coal mine’, uniquely sensitive to environmental degradation.
Possibly frogs were being killed by an increase in UV radiation (from CFCs). Of course you could always put out a fucking ultraviolet photometer and measure the UV anywhere and anytime you wanted, but that would be the easy way out. Why do that when you could be paying graduate students to play with frogs?

In 1993, people discovered an odd fungus [ Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis] infecting frogs in Queensland. Since then it has been linked to many dramatic population declines in “western North America, Central America, South America, eastern Australia, East Africa (Tanzania) and Dominica and Montserrat.” Some species it bops, others it exterminates. Frog species with few offspring and high parental investment, such as mouth-breeding frogs, seem particularly vulnerable. It works like an STD, which can propagate when population density is low. Frogs congregate in ponds to mate, which allows transmission, as long as the frogs mate at all.

It took some time for herpetologists to admit that this chytrid fungus is the main culprit – some are still resisting. First, it was a lot like how doctors resisted Semmelweiss’ discoveries about the cause of puerperal fever – since doctors were the main method of transmission. How did this fungus get to the cloud forests of Costa Rica? On the boots of herpetologists, of course.

The second problem is Occam’s butterknife: even though this chytrid fungus is the main culprit, it’s just got to be more complicated than that. Even if it isn’t. People in the life sciences – biology and medicine – routinely reject simple hypotheses that do a good job of explaining the data for more complex hypotheses that don’t. College taught them to think – unwisely.

It looks if it infected the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) for a long time, well before the current epidemic, and was spread by worldwide use of that frog in human pregnancy testing.

Look at the broad pattern of areas affected: the Americas, Australia, islands. Amphibians in those areas were profoundly isolated from the Old World, just as their human inhabitants were. North America is not isolated when it comes to birds or mammals – there has often been an exchange of species thru Beringia, during glacial periods – but amphibians can’t survive salt water or glaciers. They’ve been isolated from Old World amphibians for a long long time – more than 100 million years, looks like. And since the Old World is bigger, with more intense biological competition*, invasive biological trouble is more likely to originate there than in the Americas or Australia.

People are still talking about environmental factors. Used to be UV (wasn’t true), herbicides ( also untrue – kind of silly way out in the jungle). Now, of course, it has to be climate change .

* if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!

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42 Responses to Plague of Frogs

  1. reinertor says:

    I think it was the Old World white settler frogs exterminating the New World frogs, who lived in peaceful harmony with Nature. But before going extinct, the native frog warned the white frog that once the white frog cut down the last tree, poisoned the last lake, caught the last fish, killed the last game, it will learn that it cannot eat money.

  2. dearieme says:

    Where I live trees are spreading like vermin. Turn your back and the bloody things spring up everywhere. Railway embankments become small woods, heathland surrenders to their relentless triffid-like advances, ungrazed land on hillsides turn to scrubby bushland. It’s happening in the Mediterranean countries too, as satellite photos show undeniably. Stop the Tree!

    • Could it be related to CO2 emissions? Trees benefit more from higher CO2 levels than grass.

      • dearieme says:

        The woods on the railway embankments are due to the replacement of steam trains by diesel and electric trains. (Details are left to the student.) Heathland and hill land surrender because they are no longer grazed so heavily. And round the Med it’s because of the decline of rural populations. Where trees are the natural ground cover only man, his cultivation tools, and his domestic animals, or rabbits and deer, can save the land from turning into woodland.

    • Philip Neal says:

      This is the natural fate of ungrazed land in lowland Britain. See under: Geescroft Wilderness.

  3. teageegeepea says:

    Your “climate change” link is broken.

  4. [sarcasm]Yes, it was fungus, but just because Old World frogs had more animals they could domesticate whereas New World barely had any[/sarcasm]

  5. Ian says:

    The only surviving frogs will be the Wakanda’s ones!

  6. Smithie says:

    When I was a college lad, there used to be this one very cramped, ancient lecture hall, where if the girl in front of you yawned, her hair would fall onto your lap, even if you weren’t slouching. (Not that there was really room to slouch). Probably a death trap in a fire.

    Anyway, all the trim was American chestnut.

  7. reiner Tor says:

    Frogs are endangered in a lot of places, like North America, Australia, or Twitter. I think there is a public interest to protect them, especially on Twitter.

  8. Henry Scrope says:

    Reminds me of this story from a few years back, the Oceanographic Institute set out to trace the alien seaweed species contaminating the Med, eventually, guess what, they were the vector.

    “A gift from the German zoo to other institutions, it is thought to have gotten into the Mediterranean some 15 years ago, when the aquarium of the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco emptied its tanks. Since then, the invader has proliferated wildly along the French Riviera, around the Spanish island of Majorca and off the coast of Italy, and has shown up as far away as Croatia.”

    God was that 20 years ago?

  9. Misdreavus says:

    So Alex Jones was closer to the truth than the majority of herps?

    That’s nice to know.

  10. JRM says:

    If aliens came to earth, they would cause the extinction of many species.
    If we go to other planets and discover low level life (single cell organisms), we might accidentally wipe it out.

  11. catte says:

    Greg: In an old post or comment I remember you once said that humans have the second-largest morphological variation of any mammal, after dogs. Do you have a cite for this? How are the different body measures aggregated? Is it within-group, between-group, both?

    • catte says:

      btw a relevant study I found seems to contradict it:

      • ziel says:

        well one problem is that they included lots of non-mammals in their study. Lots an lots of rodent species among the mammals they did include. But notice that they refer to “within-population” variation – so they point to low variation among pygmies to bolster their argument. So their basic argument is that human height variation, within any given population subset, is less that what is found among other animal species. That might be true and probably an interesting observation on the evolutionary stresses humans face, but is very different from Greg’s point.

        On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if taxonomists, viewing humans dispassionately as they might non-human species (e.g. black bears, brown bears, polar bears) might be so sure that pygmies, Danes, Masai, and Eskimos are of the same species.

        • catte says:

          They look at between-population variation too.

          Our analyses of among-population variation help to refine the above hypothesis that selection might reduce height variation in humans relative to other animals. In particular, humans show levels of among-population variation in height that are similar to that seen in other animals (Figure S2). Specifically, the mean among-population CVs for male and female human height correspond to the 47th and 51st percentiles, respectively, of mean among-population CVs for animal length.

          • ziel says:

            I can’t imagine how that could be true, since among non-human animals, “population” is usually co-terminous with species. Can you find an example of some mammals in that list who have more between population differences than humans that you can point to? Preferably non-rodents (rodents are not really comparable to mammalian megafauna).?

            • catte says:

              I don’t know what precise definition they’re using for population but I think it’s geographic. At any rate they definitely aren’t using it as a synonym for “species”:

              In total, our dataset (Tables S1 and S2) comprised of 55 studies (99 populations) of humans and 107 studies and 210 species (848 populations) of other animals.

              Unfortunately it doesn’t list the actual variation numbers for each species in a table, they’re all buried in the citations. They do compare humans to mammals specifically though, and we’re unremarkable:

              It looks like they also excluded small animals and found the same:

              However, restricting our analysis to animal species with body sizes within the range of human body size did not influence our conclusions that (1) humans have low levels of within-population variation in height (6th percentile for males and 0th percentile for females), but (2) not within-population variation in mass (65th percentile for males and 42nd percentile for females) or (3) among-population variation in height (45th percentile for males and 71st percentile for females).

              I’m not about to go diving in to check every single one of these citations so unless someone can point to something egregiously wrong with the study I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

              • Ziel says:

                Digging thru the details of that study does not seem practical.

                But just purely out of curiosity I’d love to know whay mammalian mega fauna species have great between population variation than say pygmies vs Dutch.

              • gcochran9 says:

                It’s something Vince Sarich said: probably correct. Feel free to take it up with him.

  12. Smithie says:

    “Plague of Frogs” is perhaps the one double entendre which the French* won’t understand.


  13. LG5 says:

    Toads get no respect. :()

  14. SlushFundPuppie says:

    How did this fungus get to the cloud forests of Costa Rica? On the boots of herpetologists, of course.

    The last thing you want in your burger is foot fungus. But as it turns out, that might be what you get.

    • The Monster from Polaris says:

      When I visited the USA as a kid back in 1951 I noticed that many foods were advertised as “untouched by human hands”. My reaction was “What about human feet?”.

  15. Senator Brundlefly says:

    Remember some paleontologist (think it was Robert T Bakker) positing that the K-Pg event couldn’t have been due to some asteroid induced climate-catastrophe caused because “canary in a coal mine” species like frogs and turtles survived and he didn’t thing they could last a bout of planetary acid rain and extended darkness.

  16. Smithie says:

    Wood frogs are for my money the most interesting frog species. You wouldn’t think a common fog found in much of the US and Canada would be something to marvel at, but it’s certainly an amazing little critter.

  17. Bobby Roberts says:

    Where is the evidence for this hypothesis of human transmission?

  18. Pingback: Warmists foiled again: Answer to what’s causing frog populations to decline is just plain embarrassing By Thomas Lifson | RUTHFULLY YOURS

  19. Pingback: Interesting Links for 28-02-2018 | Made from Truth and Lies

  20. What are your thoughts on endocrine disruptors? Real or over-hyped?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Important if true. I haven’t seen any convincing evidence, but I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion.

      • I only ask in this thread because intersex fish are becoming a problem in the Great Lakes (particularly Lake Erie), and it tends to effect frogs as well. (I read “Our Stolen Future” a few years ago and it had a claim that they found same-sex mating patterns in birds around polluted river areas back in the seventies, but since Gay Rights Beta Version was on the rise, it was pushed aside. Also, that disease rates in the oceans go up because the hormonal systems of animals don’t fight infections the way they normally would.)

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