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Earth Science

Scientists Build an Ark To Save Jungle Amphibians 127

Posted by kdawson
from the forty-cubits dept.
Peace Corps Online writes "In the 1980s a deadly fungus called chytrid appeared in Central America and began moving through mountain streams, killing as many as 8 out of 10 frogs and extinguishing some species entirely. (The fungus has little effect on any other vertebrates.) Now a returned Peace Corps volunteer and her husband have opened the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in western Panama to house more than 600 frogs as chytrid cuts a lethal path through the region. Experts agree that the only hope of saving some of the more endangered, restricted-range species is to collect animals from remaining wild populations, establish captive breeding programs, and be prepared to conduct reintroduction projects in the future. But before reintroduction can even begin, scientists must find some way to overcome the chytrid in native habitats using vaccines, breeding for resistance, or genetic engineering of the fungus. Conservationists are budgeting for 25 years of captive breeding, long enough, they believe, to allow some response to chytrid to be found. 'There are more species in need of rescue than there are resources to rescue them,' says Amphibian Ark's program director. 'When you're talking about insidious threats like disease or climate change, threats that can't be mitigated in the wild, there's simply no alternative.'"
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Scientists Build an Ark To Save Jungle Amphibians

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  • Nature? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brimmith (1090637) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @04:31PM (#27025213)
    I understand that we dont want frogs to die off in that region but why mess with nature. If we vaccinate these frogs and there numbers swell; what are those consequences going to be? Im sure that the frogs will adapt to the environment and overcome.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054)

      > Im sure that the frogs will adapt to the environment and overcome.

      And if they don't, something else will.

      No tasty bug goes un-eaten for long.

      Nature abhors a vacuum.

    • by Thiez (1281866)

      > Im sure that the frogs will adapt to the environment and overcome.

      You do realise that when you look at the species around you, all you see are winners, right? During billions of years of evolution, millions of species have gone extinct. There is no magic that protects us or the frogs from extinction. Sometimes evolution saves your ass, and sometimes it kills you. Saying 'nature always finds a way' because the species around you are not extinct is comparable to saying 'I am immortal' just because you've

  • Nature (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _Shorty-dammit (555739) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @04:33PM (#27025219)
    Why not leave nature to its own devices? Survival of the fittest, and all that kinda stuff...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Because Nature is "insidious" if it is not commensurate with our financial aspirations.

      • And because reality is that evolution is a cruel, horrible game involving more death than anyone can tolerate. ... and therefore it is something that should, especially when it affects humans, be stopped at any cost.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          What would have happened if this disease had happened 1000 years ago? The frogs would have died. In fact, 99.99% of all species that have ever existed are now dead. That's the way the planet works.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by migla (1099771)
      Why not save species from extinction if we can?
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why not extinguish species if we can?
        That's the same kind of question.
        Personally I believe it is a pointless exercise to spend some of our limited resources, so we can delay a natural process that has no direct impact on us. We shouldn't be playing god unless we really have to. A stable ecosystem is based on extinction-level events happening.

        • The thing about complex systems such as the ecosystem is that something that has no direct impact may have some indirect impact that may just be even worse, maybe not.

          My brain is still in conflict with itself with the pointlessness of rescuing (and selectively eradicating) a species, however. We don't know if the extinction of this particular species would be a boon or not. It might not even matter, but wouldn't it be better to maintain the status quo and eradicate the fungus? At least we know, more or l

      • by soren202 (1477905)
        it's expensive and takes a lot of manpower/monetary resources that could go better spent on efforts beneficial to humans?

        Just because we can do it doesn't mean we should, although there are a number of other perfectly valid reasons for why we should try and save the frogs from extinction.
        • by dov_0 (1438253)

          although there are a number of other perfectly valid reasons for why we should try and save the frogs from extinction

          You're saying that they're good to eat or something?

      • >>>Why not save species from extinction if we can?

        Because these frogs are going to be extinct anyway, once the next meteorite hits. Every time there's a major extinction event, 95-99% of the planet's animals get killed. We're not saving the frogs; we're just postponing the inevitable.

        • Re:Nature (Score:5, Insightful)

          by psnyder (1326089) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @07:02PM (#27026035)

          we're just postponing the inevitable.

          Which is why we go to the doctor.

          You make it sound like postponing the inevitable is a bad thing. Maybe we'll learn a thing or two from these frogs or about these frogs if we keep them around just a little bit longer.

          • by FooGoo (98336)

            Do we need all the frogs or just few for research purposes? How do they taste? If they taste good sell some as food and use the rest for research.

          • >>>>>we're just postponing the inevitable extinction of the frogs.

            >>Which is why we go to the doctor. You make it sound like postponing the inevitable is a bad thing.

            It is a bad thing when you're wasting resources that could be better spent (like paying off the $130,000 per home U.S. debt). Also you presume too much: I don't go to the doctor. I'm going to die anyway, and now is just a good a time to die as any. ("Today is a good day to die.") I don't want to be an old man who ____

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Thiez (1281866)

              > Back to frogs - Extinction is a GOOD thing. It's how nature weeds-out the weak. Let them die, and the few that are left behind will be stronger & better.

              What will be left behind is a fungus and a huge pile of dead frogs. I fail to see how that is a desireable state.

    • Re:Nature (Score:5, Funny)

      by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @04:50PM (#27025331)
      It is our nature to interfere with nature, and who are we to interfere with nature? Therefore, in order to be true to our nature (and therefore not interfere with nature) we must surely interfere with nature!
      • indeed (Score:5, Funny)

        by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:08PM (#27025453)

        I believe Love And Rockets covered this [youtube.com]: "You cannot go against nature / because when you do / go against nature / it's part of nature too".

        Thus confirming the thesis that all major questions of philosophy have been covered by 80s music.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dov_0 (1438253)

          Thus confirming the thesis that all major questions of philosophy have been covered by 80s music.

          Philosophy maybe, but that still leaves the ethical questions regarding their 80's hairstyles...

        • by Plutonite (999141)

          Not quite true! It's very funny and I hate to be serious when someone is genuinely funny, but it's also untrue.

          You do not necessarily go against "nature" due only to other emotional drives imposed by instinct. That's what's so cool about being self-aware AND capable of intelligence (universal logic). It's almost painfully obvious but difficult to state at the same time: the brain is capable of regulating your conscious activity due to impulses based on rationale that is irrelevant to human beings altogether

      • Brilliant! I don't think I've ever seen this put so concisely and yet so accurately.
      • You know, once you realize the obvious, that humans are part of nature, your statement stops making sense.

        Every breath any human takes "interferes with nature", for obvious reasons.

        And obviously, having 6 billion very big animals alive interferes a lot.

    • Re:Nature (Score:5, Insightful)

      by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:07PM (#27025445)

      How would biologists stay employed, if not for this?

      • Or epidemiologists, or hell, even your friendly neighborhood doctor:

        "Oh sure, I'd love to help you -- and others -- out with that nasty bout of flu you're suffering from this year, but because Herbert Spencer's saying [wikipedia.org] is now an immutable Law of Nature for...um, some reason...hopefully humanity will evolve its way out of this faster than the virus does."
        [[Doctor pats patient on the back]]
        "Good luck next life...if that exists!" [[Doctor laughs evilly]]
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by COMON$ (806135)
      amen, but don't you know that environmentalists these days seem more interested in empathetic selection than natural selection, eg survival of what I love most, not survival of the fittest. All they are doing is keeping the inevitable away, if the weak frogs are not killed off then what happens when we are not around to save them next time?
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Or what happens to the salamanders that would have filled their niche when they were gone? Sometimes it is hard to believe how many "environmentalists" are not.
    • Re:Nature (Score:5, Interesting)

      by physicsphairy (720718) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:17PM (#27025497) Homepage

      Humans are virtually incapable of making realistic cost-benefit analyses of these type of situations. There is so much genetic material phasing into and out of existence, human beings could not begin to comprehend it all. However, a single species is easy enough to comprehend, and so by being considered at all it gets a fairly disproportionate representation in the grand scheme of earth's ecosystem. (and I guess the 'conservationists' are not so sentimental about fungus as frogs)

      I think it is interesting that their long-term solution is either to attack the fungus (basically performing a total reversal of natural selection through human intervention) or to preserve the frogs and provide the frogs with some kind of immunity. Of course, nature *already has* an paradigm for immunity, the principle mechanism of which is to let all the organisms that lack intrinsic biological defenses to be killed off.

      • Good observation. Who's to say the fungus is worthy of death? Perhaps this stuff will eventually be the cure for cancer, to be filtered and purified around the year 2150, but those stupid "primitives" of the 2000s destroyed it.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "There is so much genetic material phasing into and out of existence, human beings could not begin to comprehend it all. "

        That is why we should collect as much as practical for future examination and exploitation. Save the data for when we have much greater power to use it. Every species lost is potentially useful data.

      • It is not wrong to fight death. After all, you're statement basically states that any artificial immunity, both against physical problems and against other species is wrong.

        So treating someone for a virus infection is wrong. So it putting a roof over someone's head to prevent him from freezing to death.

        Tell me, do you live in a house ? Wouldn't it be better to let all humans that need houses die off ? That would, obviously, probably include you. But isn't that better ?

        Natural selection is a horrible, horrib

        • by tftp (111690)

          It is not wrong to fight death. After all, you're statement basically states that any artificial immunity, both against physical problems and against other species is wrong.

          Here is a thought experiment. Imagine that starting now all deaths on Earth are permanently stopped, and all life forms remain healthy and at their peak age. What do you think the planet will look like in a week, in a month, in a year?

          The nature already produces more insects and animals than their habitat can carry. The excess popul

    • Save the frogs, kill the fungus! Yes, trust us, frogs are cuter than fungus, they will clearly be more beneficial to our species than a new fungus ever could hope to be.

      Besides, if we do nothing, the surviving 20% of frogs will follow their primal instincts and repopulate themselves! And what's worse, the new generations will be immune to this harmful fungus!! The inhumanity!

    • by RudeIota (1131331)
      Who says this is 'nature' to begin with?

      This fungus could have been easily spread solely by human interaction, or made worse meddling or mere presence. Who's to say?

      Maybe this is a little semantic, but I personally believe we are part of nature and "leaving nature to its own devices" includes our meddling... We are indeed a device of nature.

      Whether or not we interfere, of course, is a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' proposition. Our lack of interference (especially if the fungus is related to us
    • Why not leave nature to its own devices?

      I guess the actual answer would be that these people don't want to and, having studied the issue beyond just a slashdot blurb, think it's a good idea. Or maybe it's a big scam. Could be either way really.

      At least one obvious pragmatic reason to save them: we might find a use for them. We already use frogs in a lot of bio research. In establishing captive breeding programs we might find that one of these more exotic species is actually better than our current model organisms at some things. We might fin

    • by Urkki (668283)

      Why not leave nature to its own devices? Survival of the fittest, and all that kinda stuff...

      We're part of nature, so even if we mess with it, it's still "natural" in the grand scheme of evolution. If those frogs that might be saved from extinction are saved, then it means they're fit enough to survive, even if they utilize humans to survive.

      Wether we humans should or should not do something, now that's a valid question. But "it's against natural order of things" is not an argument against it, because there's no such "natural order". There's current natural order of things which involves these frog

  • sentimental fools (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Potor (658520)
    This is pure sentimentalization of nature. Are we going to protect gazelles from cheetahs next?
    • Re:sentimental fools (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:11PM (#27025459)

      This is not natural:
      "Due to its extensive use in obstetrics and research, it appears Xenopus laevis has carried B. dendrobatidis with it out of Africa to all over the world, causing chytridomycosis and eventually death in native frogs naÃve to the fungi."
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_clawed_frog
      http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no12/03-0804.htm

      • Thank-you, uninformed comments about sentmental environmentalists and evolution are arguing in a factual vacum.
      • Which part of it is not natural ? A disease (fungus) was carried by a host organism to a new place where it infected a vulnerable organism.

        The transporter was not affected by the disease.

        We're just lucky we were the transporter in this case. In the case of malaria, we're the vulnerable organisms.

        Humans are part of nature.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)

      Probably yes. If only because the Gazelles are likely to taste better to humans than the cheetahs.

      (Providing a nice herd for hunting is one of the primary reasons for wolf control in the somewhat less populated areas of North America...the other is that lots of people want to live by trees and grass, but not by big dangerous animals)

      Really, I don't see the problem with getting sentimental about nature, as long as it doesn't cost a lot. It makes more sense than getting sentimental about Paris Hilton or Britn

    • by Urkki (668283)

      This is pure sentimentalization of nature. Are we going to protect gazelles from cheetahs next?

      If the gazelles are likely to go extinct, then I suppose it would be a good idea... Also good for the cheetah, preserving one of it's prey species.

      Letting species go extinct erases parts of biosphere forever. Now of course new stuff evolves all the time to replace the erased. But the thing is, we're in the middle of a mass extinction event. Currently things are being erased much faster than new stuff is evolving, overall. So trying to slow down the extinction rate sounds rather a good idea to me... Total co

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Breeding frogs in a greenhouse for many generations for reintroduction into a native environment? Wow, I bet the descendants will be much better prepared [/sarcasm]

    Then there's the chance that the critters could be accidentally or mischievously let out in some sheltered environment (e.g. Hawaii, Austrailia), and overrun the place.

    What about speciation and adaptation based on natural selection in their native environment? Just because 80+ pct are killed off by the fungus doesn't mean that they can't adapt

    • by psnyder (1326089)

      Just because 80+ pct are killed off by the fungus doesn't mean that they can't adapt and recover.

      I thought the point was that, in this case, the people observing think they won't be able to adapt and recover. The summary says, "extinguishing some species entirely" meaning it's already killed off some species that didn't adapt (to this fungus carried from Africa by humans).

      It was a human accident (not malice).

      Now the question is, do we sit back and watch them die or do we try to save some of them. When you spill wine on your friend's carpet, do you watch the stain soak in or do you take some re

      • Now the question is, do we sit back and watch them die or do we try to save some of them.

        ]

        We sit back and watch them die. We might learn something about evolution by doing so.

        When you spill wine on your friend's carpet, do you watch the stain soak in or do you take some responsibility and try to clean it up?

        Depends on whether they noticed me spill it, I guess. Though any of my friends who saw me with wine in my hand would know something was up. "I don't drink...wine." fits me to a T.

  • Evolution stymied? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @04:40PM (#27025267)

    Is this a good idea?

    Preserving species that are not fit for their environment seems the wrong approach to me. The chance of ever totally eradicating this fungus is nil, and if the most numerous amphibian population around is a re-seeded susceptible population you get to re-play the whole scenario in another 25 or 100 years.

    Even trying to bread a frog with some resistance is at best an artificial solution, and one that historically has never worked on any grand scale.

    Nature is not so fragile that the loss of said frogs will not be offset the the advance of some niche dweller to fill the gap.

    We can't even manage our own affairs. It seems unwise and premature to step in and take over from mother nature.

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @04:52PM (#27025351) Homepage Journal
      The problem is that we could be causing this disease to spread. One reason which has been put forward is that frog researchers who go from country to country are spreading diseases. So saving frogs in this instance may be more a case of fixing the damage we have done.
      • by icebike (68054)

        > One reason which has been put forward is that frog researchers who go from country to country are spreading diseases.

        If so, funding more frog researchers seems hardly wise.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Sidshow (1402661)
        Yes, researchers likely have caused the damage, but what people forget is that humans are part of nature.

        If the frogs your researching can't handle the act of you researching them then you have just evolved yourself out of a job. These researchers like the frogs in the wild need to adapt, find new work, or perish along with there beloved research subjects.
        • by mdwh2 (535323)

          Yes, researchers likely have caused the damage, but what people forget is that humans are part of nature.

          Yes, but if you're going to play that card, then "humans rescuing frogs from disease" is also part of nature.

          If the frogs your researching can't handle the act of you researching them then you have just evolved yourself out of a job. These researchers like the frogs in the wild need to adapt, find new work, or perish along with there beloved research subjects.

          I'm not sure that makes much sense. Firstly,

          • Yes, but if you're going to play that card, then "humans rescuing frogs from disease" is also part of nature.

            EXACTLY. We can make the earth the way we see fit. We can make it a very nice place for humans to live in.

            There is nothing wrong with that. Isn't there something about that even in the bible ? We've known this for quite a while.

        • Intelligence got us into this mess and it will have to get us out. We can't just sit back and say "well thats nature for you". Otherwise there would be no wilderness left very soon.
          • by icebike (68054)

            It is still unproven that researchers were the (only) carriers. Frog eating birds may have spread the fungus as well. It's spread was probably inevitable.

            Its also unproven the the "wilderness" needs saving. After all, the next cure for cancer could just as likely be lurking in the species the frogs are suppressing with their voracious appetites, or the species that steps up to fill the frog's niche.

            "Won't somebody please think of the cancer patients!"

    • by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:07PM (#27025443)

      Even trying to bread a frog ... is at best an artificial solution, and one that historically has never worked on any grand scale.

      I disagree. I've successfully managed to bread frogs en masse, you just have to have a really large fryer. Delicious and crispy!

      Sorry, couldn't help myself.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:52PM (#27025697)

      Keeping the frogs available for study may help us learn to exploit them.

      The more creatures we "ranch" the more we have available. Think of it as a "seed bank" of sorts. Instead of killing off species, we can retain and manipulate them.

    • Preserving species that are not fit for their environment seems the wrong approach to me. The chance of ever totally eradicating this fungus is nil, and if the most numerous amphibian population around is a

      So we should let all alaskans die, and most of canada ? After all, most of that place would not, without massive human intervention, be habitable for humans.

      Perhaps you should terminate civilization ? Force humans, including you of course, to survive without houses, without cities, without walmart, and ab

      • by icebike (68054)

        What the hell are you raving about?
        The north has been inhabitable since before the last ice age.

        What does this have to do with the topic at hand?

        • The point is, it is not inhabitable (for humans) without technological interventions.

          Since things like heated homes are obviously interference, artificially keeping the species alive in an area that nature would forbid to them, we should destroy those interventions, by which I mean destroy their houses, cities, roads, cars, and even any fires they may try to make, and "let nature take it's course" (ie. killing probably every last alaskan and the large majority of canadians).

          • by icebike (68054)

            > The point is, it is not inhabitable (for humans) without technological interventions.

            Go tell your nonsense to the Eskimo populations.

            • So those don't use fire ? Those don't build houses ? They don't have technology ? They don't interfere with their "natural" surroundings ?

              Think for a second before you say stuff.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              > The point is, it is not inhabitable (for humans) without technological interventions.

              Go tell your nonsense to the Eskimo populations.

              Ummm, you do know that clothing, houses, harpoons, fishhooks, sleds, and other things like that are, well, TECHNOLOGY?

              Alas, it's not true that technology is appropriate only to describe the products of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We've been doing "technology" since one of our ancestors first banged two rocks together to produce an edge to cut through a deer

              • by icebike (68054)

                How is any of this germane?

                What one species does to survive in any particular environment has absolutely nothing to do with that species taking on the task of managing evolution for a frog in central america.

                We can live in the arctic, and even on the moon.
                But we can not micromanage evolution for every species on earth EVEN IF we might have impacted them in the past.

                Now go away with this stupid argument about the arctic and what mankind does to survive.

                • But we can not micromanage evolution for every species on earth EVEN IF we might have impacted them in the past.

                  We do it for quite a few already for thousands of years :
                  -> humans (obviously, houses, medicine, roads ...)
                  -> cows (a few hundred species of them)
                  -> pigs
                  -> sheep
                  -> chickens
                  -> turkey
                  -> ...

                  Add to that the basically extinct species that still live in zoos :
                  -> at least 2 species of elephant
                  -> some 4/5 species of tiger
                  -> 2 species of lions
                  -> ... (this list is, according

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2009 @05:05PM (#27025423)

    I know I've been looking forward to free-range fried frog's legs that don't let you down in the hallucination department.

  • Losing a species unbalances nature so horribly it causes a chain reaction that terminates all life. This must be the first example of non-human-influenced extinction. This doesn't make sense; obviously it's a human's fault for bringing the fungus from some other continent, or something. What next? Brining Manbearpig to tropical paradises on oil tankers?
  • Till humans end up in captive breeding programs to keep the population alive?
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Till humans end up in captive breeding programs to keep the population alive?"

      We do essentially that with foreign aid.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Aladrin (926209)

        Foreign aid? What about local welfare programs? We already support tons of people who can't support themselves.

        And before anyone goes crazy about what I just wrote, I realize that some people are just down on their luck and need a little help. I'm talking about those shiftless bums who just take the free handouts and don't bother trying, or could never support themselves even if they -did- try.

        As a side note, I used to spend a lot of time thinking about how society has stopped evolution in humans... But

  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:24PM (#27026447)
    ...on my plate, next to the mashed potatos.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If we're going to save one species, we must save them all.

  • in 50 years those frogs that survive the fungus will fill the open spot in the food chain.

    we spend a lot of effort trying to stop change.

  • A cure for chytridiomycosis has already been found. Researchers in New Zealand have found that infected Frogs can be treated with Chloramphenicol. Incredibly cheap to make, effective, and only causes aplastic anemia in 1 in 25,000 to 40,000 humans. What could possibly go wrong? It's not like interfering with nature using chemicals ever has any unintended consequences.

  • I'm going to stick my neck out and say that these nature lovers are hypocrites. There are two things that are certain in life: nature has a way of balancing itself out, and humans have a way to destroy everything they touch. If 8 out of 10 frogs are being killed by this fungus, that's the millenia-old rule of the survival of the fittest. We try to interfere with this impenetrable law, and we end up fucking with something else indirectly.

    At best, it will save a few frogs whose existence has been deemed ob

  • An Ark... I would like to see they patent that one...

  • ... we, Homo Sapiens, become Homo Evolutis. By taking direct control over the evolution of other species (and of ourselves).

    (see the thought-provoking Juan Enriquez shares mindboggling new science [ted.com] on this subject)

  • As my botany prof said, you cannot define a species until all its members are gone. Mankind has been the single best creator of species since the asteroid killed off the dinosaurs.
  • ... or just as wrong as killing animals, to be specific.

    If no humans existed, the fungus would have killed the frogs, making place for other and new species. That is one way of natural selection.
    Why do we have animal protection programs in the first place? Because we meddled with nature, and have to fix it.
    Not because animals are dying.

    This is a typical case of forgetting the original intent and blindly following the rules. Even if they are completely contradicting that intent.

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