How one small accident can decimate an entire species

Everyone knows just how bad an evolved bacteria or virus can be; I even wrote about Malaria, a commonly known virus-caused disease. However, a lesser known killer has been destroying animal, plant, and probably humans as well: fungus.

As those who have been following know, I have been reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s , “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”. As it comes to a close, I can’t help but be shocked how history can continually repeat itself. Kolbert gave two instances in detail in her book where an advanced fungal blight has spread throughout different species and quickly began killing.

The first is the golden tree frog of Panama also known as the Panamanian golden frog. These frogs were everywhere around Panama, and not just the wild either. These frogs have a cultural value there and are a symbol of luck, which is probably why they are printed on lottery tickets among other merchandise. It’s honestly surprising how long it took for people to realize the population was declining, and fast. By the time people began to set up little refugee sites for these frogs, thousands had died. A fungus was the cause of not only the huge decline of this frog, but lots of other amphibians around the world. Only two frog species were found to be resistant to the fungus: African Clawed Frogs and North American Bullfrogs. This suggested that the fungus co-evolved within these species, attempting to get the upper-hand. These two frogs are also well known to move around the world either to be consumed, used for medicinal purposes, or as pets.  Odds are an infected individual spread the evolved fungus to another amphibian who had no natural resistance to it, quickly killing and spreading.

There are, unfortunately, other occasions of such an event happening in other species, bats to be precise. White-nose-syndrome is also a fungal infection, but found in bat species. It was also a very quick killer, partly because of how social bats are. It spread rapidly from one cave to another, it was safe to say that once it arrived in one cave, by the next day every bat in that cave had it. Again, certain species of bat, found in Europe, are resistant to the disease, but still carry it.  European spelunkers wishing to go into and explore caves visited New York one day, and the fungus on their clothes managed to spread to a bat, and the rest is history.

 

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