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Top Story

Bullfrogs helped a deadly fungus make the jump to the Western US

In the 1890s, settlers crossed the Rocky Mountains seeking new opportunities -- and bearing frogs. A new study coauthored by a San Francisco State University biology professor draws a link between that introduction of American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) to the western half of the U.S. with the spread of a fungus deadly to amphibians. The work highlights the catastrophic results of moving animals and plants to new regions. The fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) has rapidly spread around the world since the 1970s, causing a skin disease called chytridiomycosis and wiping out more than 200 species of amphibians globally. In the U.S., these declines have followed a curious pattern. American bullfrogs, a species introduced to the West by settlers who wished to populate ponds with an abundant source of frog legs, have for over a decade been a main suspect. Bullfrogs can carry Bd without falling victim to it themselves, making them a potential vehicle for the fungus to colonize new habitats that harbor vulnerable amphibians. That link between frog and fungus explains patterns in the U.S., but it's also relevant far beyond the country's borders. Thanks in part to a U.S. Agency for International Development program that shipped bullfrogs to developing countries to start frog farms, the invasive amphibians have taken hold in parts of Europe, Asia and South America.

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