A fungal disease has wiped out at least 30 species of amphibians in central Panama, according to a study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Five of the species that became extinct had not yet even been formally identified.
The study confirmed a worldwide trend of amphibian populations being decimated by a fungal pathogen called chytrid. Three U.S. researchers studying amphibians in El Copé, Panama detailed the presence of the species from 1998 to 2003 – before the fungus’ arrival – and then after the fungus’ arrival from 2006 to 2008. They saw a drastic drop in the number of species from 63 to 33.
A sixth of those species now absent from Panama’s Omar Torrijos National Park had not been catalogued before.
“It’s sadly ironic that we are discovering new species nearly as fast as we are losing them,” Andrew Crawford told the United Kingdom’s daily the Independent.
Crawford, of the University of the Andes in Colombia, led the study.
The fungus moves fast and it’s difficult to stop the devastation once it infests a certain area. The Independent pointed out that one of the most exemplary cases of the fungus-driven decline in amphibian populations occurred in Costa Rica.
In the 1980s, the fungus destroyed the golden toad population in Monteverde, in north-central Costa Rica. By 1989, the golden toad was extinct. Some experts say global warming contributed to the festering of the fungus in the areas where it has wreaked havoc on amphibian populations.