Research Suggests American Bullfrogs Hold Clues to Combating Wildlife Fungal Diseases

NEW YORK – February 28, 2018 – Identified as the cause of rapid amphibian species declines globally by our president, Dr. Peter Daszak, in 1998, chytridiomycosis is a fungal infection which affects at least 200 amphibian species worldwide, causing either severe population declines or even complete species extinction. Now, further research by EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, has found evidence which suggests the American bullfrog may hold the key to fighting this pervasive disease, and perhaps other fungal infections impacting wildlife populations.

Published today in Royal Society Open Science, the findings show that the American bullfrog is significantly more effective at combating the disease than a closely related species, the wood frog. While wood frogs suffering from chytridiomycosis mount an adaptive immune system response, American bullfrogs do not. This suggests the immune response may be ineffective, or even a contributor to death in amphibians with chytridiomycosis. While the exact reason American bullfrogs resist chytridiomycosis so effectively remains unclear, it’s likely due to proteins (peptides) secreted through their skin or rapid skin shedding.

These findings could help guide future study and management of other wildlife fungal infections, like white-nose syndrome or snake fungal disease. White-nose syndrome in particular has had devastating effects on bat communities, some suffering mortality rates of higher than 90 percent following white-nose’s introduction to their habitat. It’s highly concerning, as bats are responsible for as much as 50 percent of a forest’s pollination in certain parts of the world.

“We know that fungal diseases are increasingly serious threats to wildlife worldwide, and our recent work helps in identifying which types of host defenses do and do not lead to effective diseases response,” EcoHealth Alliance Research Scientist and paper lead author Evan Eskew said. “Ultimately, understanding these defenses will help us better protect these species, both in captivity and in the wild.”

While generally considered an invasive species due to their negative impact on other amphibian species, American bullfrogs may be very important in a research context, providing the clues that will help scientists and conservationists in the race to fight wildlife diseases.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance’s rigorous, science-based approach working in more than 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.
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