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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

24 February 2005

$1.6 million to unlock mystery of deadly frog fungus


Queensland's James Cook University (JCU) will use $1.6 million from the Australian Government's Natural Heritage Trust to help find out why the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus has been found in 45 native frog species.

Amphibian chytrid fungus causes the infectious amphibian disease, chytridiomycosis. The fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) invades the surface layers of the frog's skin.

It is not yet known exactly how this kills the frog but the fungus may release toxins that are absorbed through the skin, or - given that frogs drink and breathe through their skins - it may directly affect water uptake and respiration.

Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell said much is still unknown about the fungus and the disease in the wild, including reasons for the death of frogs, how the fungus survives in the absence of frog populations, and how it spreads.

"The fungus has caused the extinction of the sharp-snouted day frog and is the most likely cause for the extinction of five other Australian frog species including the unique gastric brooding frogs," Senator Campbell said.

"The fungus has also been linked to the decline of at least four other species - the waterfall frog, common mist frog, spotted tree frog and lace-lid tree frog.

"The worldwide spread of the disease is of extreme concern, with chytrid fungus recorded in Africa, the Americas, Europe, New Zealand and Oceania. In Australia it has been recorded along the east coast from Cooktown, Queensland, to central Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and southwest Western Australia.

"Even more worrying, research shows that in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia the apparent rate of spread has been about 100 kilometres per year.

"The Australian Government is committed to tackling chytrid fungus, and has listed fungus as a 'Key Threatening Process' under Federal Environment laws. A draft Threat Abatement Plan has established a framework to better direct resources to managing the disease."

Associate Professor Ross Alford from the School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, said JCU would study a range of habitats in Queensland's Wet Tropics and at selected sites in New South Wales, focusing on species such as the Australian Lace-lid, Waterfall Frog and Green and Golden Bell Frog.

James Cook University is a world leader in the field of amphibian ecology and amphibian chytrid epidemiology and pathogenesis. Associate Professor Ross Alford was among the first scientists to recognise and document the extent of amphibian declines in Australia and the interaction between frogs and the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Further information about amphibian chytrid fungus is available at
www.jcu.edu.au/school/phtm/PHTM/frogs/batrachochytrium.htm
Further information about amphibian declines is available at:
www.jcu.edu.au/school/tbiol/zoology/herp/decline/jcu.shtml
The Draft Threat Abatement Plan is available at
www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/amphibians/index.html

Media inquiries:
Renae Stoikos (Senator Campbell's Office) 02 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434

Commonwealth of Australia