"Frog Hotel" to Shelter Panama Species From Lethal Fungus

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"You can't overstate how serious this pathogen is—it is the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates," said Mathew Fisher of the department of infectious disease epidemiology at the U.K.'s Imperial College London.

"The amphibian tree of life is being severely pruned by [BD]."

The effort to collect and house Panama's frogs is being led by the Houston Zoo based in Texas.

The hotel is a temporary measure while the zoo gathers funding to build a permanent facility for the frogs at the El Nispero Zoo in El Valle.

When complete, the 2,400-square-foot (223-square-meter) center will hold about 1,500 frogs, all of which will receive VIP treatment including sterilized water, spacious cages, and specialized diets.

The frogs will be isolated in the new building until the disease has run its course and the animals can hopefully be reintroduced to the wild.

In a similar effort, researchers from the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Zoo Atlanta, both in Georgia, packed hundreds of the frogs into suitcases and flew them to safety in Atlanta.

But both plans are controversial moves.

How many samples are needed to save each species?

Are they still "wild frogs" if they are nurtured and raised in zoos?

Is it ethical to rapidly collect hundreds of amphibians without first studying their wild population numbers and behaviors?

Those questions must wait, say the scientists, who are caught up in a rush to protect what remains of Panama's frog populations.

Warming Fueling BD

BD's arrival in Panama was followed by new evidence that the disease spreads faster as a result of climate change.

A study released in October by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B found further proof that rising temperatures may allow the fungus to reproduce year-round.

Scientists in Spain, using data collected over 26 years, concluded that BD, which would normally be slowed when the weather turns cold, is able to grow continuously in years with milder winters.

"Global warming is loading the dice in favor of this disease-causing fungus," said Alan Pounds, a resident frog expert at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica.

In a separate study earlier this year, Pounds documented the link between global warming and the BD fungus.

He estimates that in the past two decades the fungus has wiped out at least 74 harlequin frog species in Central and South America.

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