Scientists are united in the belief that our standard of living is affecting the environment. To fly to any place on the globe within hours, eat imported food each day and buy new clothes without hurting our wallets is a luxury that we do not see the consequences of. But the consequences are infinite and seem to grow as the problem expands, affecting the habitats and ecosystems of other species which, in turn, affect yet more species and ecosystems.
One situation that makes the problem tangible is the fall-off in amphibian species. Chytrid, or Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is a fungus that feasts on keratin in the skin of frogs and salamanders, eventually killing them. We do not know what is causing the spread of the fungus but scientists have a wide number of theories. While it may seem like there is not much hope, the only thing these theories have in common is that we humans are the cause.
When the forests go silent,
our ecosystems lack balance.
The echoing sound of animal life has always been a beautiful melody. The croaks and groans of frogs form the beautiful chorus that has filled the air of our forests. But suddenly, they went mysteriously silent. In the 1980s, scientists encountered the deadly fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a type of Chytrid.
Chytrid, the deadly ecological super-villain, targets amphibians and has affected over 200 species globally, altering ecosystems around the world. Chytrid attacks the skin of amphibians — a crucial dynamic organ of the animal — making it difficult for the animal to breathe and absorb water. The fungus feasts on keratin, the protein of the skin, causing first shedding and then total sloughing off of the skin, which ends with heart failure in just a matter of weeks.
The major die-offs of Amphibians were first noticed in the 1980s when the fungus began to be found around the globe. Many of the exposed frogs live in Central and South America, Europe, North America, Australia, and Africa. In one example, 2004 to 2008, one exposed site in Panama lost 41 percent of amphibian species to Chytrid.
Why is the deadly fungus traveling across continents around the world, killing our wildlife?
The crisis escalates when you introduce the human factor
Global warming has been rapidly accelerating for the last century. The release of greenhouse gases is altering the conditions for life on our planet, while humans are busy living their typical modern day-to-day life of technology and power. Global warming is the central culprit for many things that are happening; sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, and the weather patterns are changing. The wildlife is doing its best not to fall apart because of the change of temperature in their habitats. The climate change is, therefore, a background factor and it matters especially to amphibians because they cannot regulate their temperature as humans do. Their immune system is temperature-dependent, so as the temperature of their surroundings changes, their immune system could weaken.
Pet and food trade
The increase in these major die-offs of amphibians has made us question human behavior over the last few decades. The rates of pet and food trade around the world are one of the ways we’re helping to spread this disease. We relocate thousands of animals every day, and with animals, there are diseases. Since a lot of cultures around the world see Amphibians as food, a huge number of frogs are being shipped all over the world, passing the disease around where it arrives.
Pollution is a global problem. It is the name of all the harmful materials, produced, and then discarded by humans that affect the environment (pollutants). Pollutants can come from natural materials already found in nature. However, when we speak about pollutants, we usually think of those created by human activity and those produced by many of the things that are useful to people, like cars, homes, and industry, to name a few. Pollutants damage the quality of air, water, and land, destroy the amphibians’ home, and impact the animals themselves, leaving the amphibians less resilient to other threats like a disease.
One of the greatest threats to species is the loss of their habitats. The world’s forests, lakes, swamps, and other habitats are disappearing as they are harvested for human consumption to make way for industrial development such as agriculture, housing, roads, and pipelines. Half of the world’s forests have disappeared, and the human impact on marine natural resources results in marine and coastal degradation. Population growth, urbanization, and tourism are all factors of destroying amphibians’ habitat, leaving the remaining population stressed, which increases the risk of getting sick. Amphibian bodies react to stress the same way humans do – factors that would not have killed them in the past, now could.
“How will we cope with the changes we've already set into motion? While we struggle to figure it all out, the fate of the Earth as we know it—coasts, forests, farms, and snow-capped mountains—hangs in the balance.” – National Geographics
What will happen when amphibians die?
The amphibians are in the middle of the food chain. They eat bugs, and they get eaten by bigger animals like birds and snakes. The real issue is that if the middle layer of the food chain is removed, the effects are extreme. They might not be noticeable right away, but when the forests are entirely silent, what will happen then? What will the effects be decades down the road? If we remove the frogs and the animals eating the frogs, what will happen to our trees and flowers? Our nature will be entirely out of balance.
We resist change, but change is our only option
What we can do
The cost of our actions is high, and it is innocents who pay the price. Without a strong plan to reinforce the importance of terrestrial and marine protected areas, ecological habitats will continue to be lost. But there is hope. We believe that education is critical, making people aware of their actions on both the small and large scale. Knowledge and research are blessings that allow change to thrive. We believe in treating ecosystems with the respect and peaceful touch that they deserve. Look at Antarctica: a no man’s land dedicated to nature and science that no nation has the right to exploit and harm. Where is it written that all the ecosystems we share must be hidden behind the walls of nations?
We believe in caring for the riches of nature — in mandatory programs for sustainable forests and ocean management, in recycling paper and plastics. We believe in treating the food that we eat with an eye to sustainability: the whole world could be fed on the agriculture that goes into meat production. Do you need imported meats and vegetables?
We believe in trade that is fair for the buyer, seller and environment. In order for everyone to benefit, we need to be responsible consumers and think of what we buy. We believe in producing clean energy and making renewable energy a top priority. Where on earth does not the wind blow, the sun shine and the water flow?
Our world’s ecosystems are an interconnected web. Strengthening one point in the chain makes it stronger as a whole. None of us can do all that is necessary to affect these changes, but we believe that each of us can do something.
Photo credit: Erica Bree Rosenblum, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.
Photographer: Erica Bree Rosenblum
Scanning electron micrograph of a frozen intact zoospore and sporangia of the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). The fungus is one of the worst killers of Australian frogs. The fungus was first discovered in dead and dying frogs in Queensland in 1993. Research has now shown the fungus is widespread across Australia and that it has been present in the country since at least 1978.
Photo credit: Dr Alex Hyatt, CSIRO Livestock Industries’ Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL).
Photographer: Dr Alex Hyatt
Bufo tuberospinus photographed in the wild during an expedition in Yunnan, China.
Photo credit: William Person, Freelance Photography.
Photographer: William Person
Uncited photographs were taken by Gustav Bodin during the project.
Photo credit: Gustav Bodin
Photographer: Gustav Bodin