Hygiene protocols for the control of diseases in Australian frogs
About the report
Amphibians have declined globally. In the first global amphibian assessment, at least 43% of amphibian species with sufficient data were found to have declined in recent decades, 34 species were extinct and a further 88 were possibly extinct (Stuart et al. 2004). In 2010, approximately 30% of amphibians were threatened globally (www.iucnredlist.org/documents/summarystatistics/2010_4RL_Stats_Table_1.pdf).
Diseases are responsible for many amphibian declines and extinctions and their risk needs to be addressed. Laurance et al. (1996) first proposed the 'epidemic disease hypothesis' to account for Australian amphibian declines. Shortly after, an unknown chytridiomycete fungus was seen infecting the skin of sick and dying frogs collected from montane rain-forests in Queensland and Panama during mass mortality events associated with significant population declines (Berger et al. 1998; Longcore et al. 1999). The fungus was subsequently found to be highly pathogenic to amphibians in laboratory trials by inducing development of skin pathology, morbidity and mortality similar to that seen in the wild frogs. The disease was called chytridiomycosis and the fungus described as a new species Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), also known as the amphibian chytrid fungus.
Bd has been found infecting over 350 species in two amphibian orders (Anura and Caudata) from all continents where amphibians occur (www.bd-maps.net). Sixty-three (~28%) of Australia's 223 (as listed by IUCN 2008) amphibian species are now known to be wild hosts for Bd (Murray et al. 2010a; Murray et al. 2010b), and over half of Australia's species may be naturally susceptible to Bd in the wild (Murray et al. 2011; Murray and Skerratt in press).
While the discovery of chytridiomycosis has sparked renewed appreciation for the role that diseases can play in threatening wildlife populations and species, it is not the only disease currently affecting amphibians, nor is it likely to be the last. Ranavirus, for example, has been observed to induce mass mortality events in frog and salamander populations in the UK and North America. In response to these global threats, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has listed both chytridiomycosis and ranavirus as "notifiable" diseases to help control their spread. Similarly, numerous conferences and reports have been assembled to produce standards in managing diseases in wild and captive amphibian populations. Together, these measures highlight the importance of developing agreed hygiene protocols for the control of diseases in Australian frogs. This document fulfils this role.