Rapid Response Investigation to Protect Amphibians in Madagascar

NEW YORK – August 6, 2015

EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, announced the findings of a rapid response investigation of pathogens affecting wild amphibians in Madagascar. The research stemmed from an incident where Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, Bd) was discovered when U.S. imports of frogs for the pet trade from Madagascar were tested for the pathogen. This finding by Jonathan Kolby of James Cook University provided the first evidence that Bd may be present in the country’s amphibian populations. EcoHealth Alliance scientists also detected the presence of Ranavirus in some of these frogs, which also had not been previously detected in Madagascar. “This study was a direct result of detecting amphibian pathogens in frogs exported from Madagascar, and thus highlights how monitoring infectious diseases in the wildlife trade can identify critical environmental health issues before they become a crisis,” said Dr. Kristine Smith, veterinarian at EcoHealth Alliance.

In 2014, EcoHealth Alliance and James Cook University scientists developed and performed a rapid response program to evaluate the presence and distribution of both Bd and Ranavirus in amphibians in Madagascar. A National Monitoring Plan was established in Madagascar in 2010 to allow for early Bd detection and rapid response to prevent biodiversity decline and extinctions. Despite 10 years of wildlife surveillance in Madagascar, Bd had not previously been confirmed until wildlife trade surveillance was performed. “Our ability to mitigate the spread of diseases is largely dependent on how well we understand pathogen dispersal pathways. This study shows that even a minimal volume of wildlife trade in the absence of biosecurity may introduce pathogens capable of catalyzing significant biodiversity decline,” said Jonathan Kolby, PhD student at James Cook University. It is not yet known whether these pathogens are endemic or recently introduced to Madagascar, but the recent incursion of Asian toads to Madagascar illustrates an avenue of potential pathogen introduction.

Madagascar is a richly biodiverse island country in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. Many native plants and wildlife have evolved in relative isolation and it is reported that 90 percent of Madagascar’s wildlife exists nowhere else in the world. The island’s diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are under threat by land-use change, expanding human populations and commercial exploitation.

“Since we are not yet seeing large-scale signs of amphibian die-offs from these deadly pathogens, now is the time to get in front of a possible environmental crisis and seize the opportunity to develop conservation methodologies to help protect species,” remarked Jonathan Kolby. The presence of both Bd and Ranavirus together demonstrate a possibility of co-infection in amphibians which may create an even greater environmental crisis for all amphibians endemic to Madagascar.

The findings were published in the journal, PLOS ONE, and can be accessed online here: “Rapid Response to Evaluate the Presence of Amphibian Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) and Ranavirus in Wild Amphibian Populations in Madagascar“.

Press Contact: Anthony M. Ramos, ramos@ecohealthalliance.org, 212.380.4469