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The Fungus Among Us
Teacher Contributed

The Fungus Among Us

Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) in northern Alabama

Topic

Ecology of Chytid Fungus

Student Exploration

What? No More Ribbits?

Hopefully, you are aware that amphibian populations worldwide have been declining for at least decades. Researchers have looked hard at this problem only to find, like many real world problems, it is multifaceted and not easily solved. The demise of the amphibians has been blamed on many things like pollution and increased CO2 in the atmosphere, but the problem just isn't that simple. These factors certainly stress amphibians but by themselves can't explain the scale of decline in amphibians. For example, water pollution certainly harms amphibians but they are declining even in areas with no apparent pollution. One thing that is certain is a type of chytid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) is a big part of the problem. Whether this fungus is killing amphibians all by itself or other stressors are making the amphibians vulnerable to the fungus is still an open question. Watch this video to find out how scientists are investigating the ecology of this chytid fungus to help people manage the amphibian populations we have left.

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. When do chytid fungi appear in the fossil record? How do they differ from other types of fungi? What does this suggest about the first fungi?
  2. How do researchers check amphibians for chytid fungus? How much does this hurt or disrupt the animals? Can you think of a better way to collect samples?
  3. How is measuring amphibians like carpentry? Do you think this connection applies to other areas? Why or why not? How important is this connection to field research?
  4. Why are researchers interested in the ecology of the chytid fungus? What do they hope to accomplish? Do you feel this is worthwhile research why or why not?
  5. In your opinion, how significant is the fact that most amphibian die-offs from fungal infection have occurred in populations which breed in permanent bodies of water as opposed to ephemeral bodies of water or on land? Can you think of any way to use this information to help the amphibians?

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