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Zoologists ID mysterious fungus killing frogs



LONDON (Reuters) - Zoologists have discovered a mysterious new fungus that is killing the world's frogs and toads, New Scientist magazine says.

They think the unnamed fungus that suffocates the amphibians by coating their undersides and legs could be the cause of a major decline in frogs reported around the globe.

Scientists do not know where the fungus came from or how it spread but it has struck 10 species of frogs and toads in 10 areas of Australia, seven species in Panama and six species in American zoos and aquariums.

"There is little doubt that this is a worldwide phenomenon," veterinary pathologist Allan Pessier, of the National Zoological Park in Washington, told the magazine.

The fungus, which was discovered independently by researchers in the United States and Australia, belongs to a new genus of chytrid, a group thought to be related to the earliest fungi.

"The scientists don't yet know if the fungus is the primary cause of death, or is killing the animals weakened by other factors, such as ultraviolet radiation penetrating the atmosphere due to the thinned ozone layer or agricultural chemicals," the magazine said Wednesday.

The fungus has been in American zoos since 1988 and was found in Australia in 1993.

Pessier and his colleague Don Nichols teamed up with Joyce Longcore of the University of Maine to identify the fungus. Meanwhile, researchers from the Australian Animal Health Laboratory near Melbourne made a similar discovery which will be reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences next month.

The researchers, who are not sure if the frogs which breathe through their skins are suffocating because of the fungus or if it is releasing a toxin, called for further research.

"Multidisciplinary teams of scientists need to work out exactly what role this fungus is playing and what can be done about it," said Pessier.



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