NSF grant to investigate role of fungus in amphibian decline
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Professor Tim James has been awarded over $54,000 from the National Science Foundation for his project “Into the heart of an epidemic: a U.S.-Brazil collaboration for integrative studies of molecular variation and population dynamics of the amphibian killing fungus in Brazil.”
Amphibian diversity of Brazil is unparalleled at nearly 900 species. More than 500 amphibian species occur in the less than 10 percent of the original Atlantic Forest that remains, according to the project summary. Causes of species declines in the Atlantic Forest include habitat destruction and invasive species, but the contribution of the fungal disease (chytridiomycosis), which has caused global amphibian declines, is uncertain. Multiple labs are independently researching the biology of chytridiomycosis in Brazil, with initial results verifying that the disease is widespread and evidence suggesting that the genetic diversity of the pathogen in Brazil is greater than in any other country sampled to date.
The two-year grant is under the direction of James, University of Michigan; Dr. Joyce E. Longcore, University of Maine; Dr. Kelly R. Zamudio, Cornell University; Brazilian colleagues Drs. Luís Felipe Toledo and Domingos da Silva Leite (Universidade de Campinas, UNICAMP); and Tamí Mott (Universidade Federal de Alagoas, UFAL). The collaborators are planning two meetings and preliminary data generation to strengthen their international collaboration for studies of the ecology and evolution of the amphibian-killing fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), in the Atlantic Coastal Forest of Brazil.
Their plan for collaboration brings together multiple scientists whose experience triangulates the problem of chytridiomycosis in Brazil: fungal biology (James and Longcore), amphibian evolution (Zamudio), amphibian ecology (Toledo and Mott), and microbiology (Leite), continues the project summary. This recently emerging amphibian fungal disease is a modern problem with little precedent (chytridiomycosis is the first vertebrate pathogen known from the phylum Chytridiomycota), and therefore a successful research strategy must include integrative approaches, combining sub-disciplines of biology (mycology and herpetology) that rarely interact with each other.
The scientists have planned two meetings, one each in the U.S. and Brazil, to bring together faculty and student researchers from five participating laboratories, establish the directions and participation of various members in collaborative projects, define plans for upcoming applications for funding for this work, and collect the preliminary data to establish a foundation for future collaborative research proposals.
Their research will seek to discover the spatial and temporal occurrence of Bd in Brazil by taking advantage of historical collections museums; survey extant amphibian populations using genetic methods to assess pathogen diversity and recombination; and develop research protocols and a large genetic repository of Brazilian Bd strains.
“Brazil has the highest diversity of amphibian species on the planet and therefore understanding the dynamics of chytrid fungus in this region is not only crucial for the preservation of biodiversity but also for studying a devastating global disease which we believe exists in a stable equilibrium with its hosts,” said James.
Caption: Phyllomedusa tomopterna. Credit: Felipe Toledo.
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