Frog research attracts further funds



A James Cook University scientist has been awarded further funding for her research into fighting a deadly worldwide frog disease.

Dr Lee Berger, from JCU’s School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, was recently awarded more than $705,000 over four years for her project under the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Future Fellowship program, to continue working on mitigating frog species declines due to the disease chytridiomycosis.

Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has caused the decline or extinction of hundreds of frog species worldwide since its emergence in the 1970s.

It has proven impossible to eradicate the fungus, so other methods of prevention and control are essential to save amphibian species from extinction.

Dr Berger said her project, Emergence and evolution of a multi-host pandemic: amphibian chytridiomycosis as a model, would examine ways to manage the disease and prevent new diseases emerging.

“Emerging infectious diseases are contributing to the sixth mass extinction,” Dr Berger said.

“This study will focus on the most important disease, chytridiomycosis, which has caused the extinction of hundreds of amphibian species.

“It will examine how it is evolving – this will improve management of it and other emerging diseases.”

Dr Berger said the project includes a collaborative study with Taronga Zoo and the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change on improving survival of frogs in reintroduction programs.

“We will also examine how virulence has evolved since the fungus arrived in Australia, and if it evolves differently in different habitats.”

In August this year, the JCU team was awarded $109,000 from the United States-based Morris Animal Foundation to fund research on chytridiomycosis by PhD student Laura Grogan.

“This level of support from both Australian and international organisations demonstrates how critical it is to mitigate the effects of chytridiomycosis on frogs,” Dr Berger said.

In 1996, JCU researcher Professor Rick Speare suggested that the decline in frog species and populations was due to a spreading disease.

A year later one of his then-PhD students, Lee Berger, discovered the disease chytridiomycosis, determining it was the spreading disease predicted by Professor Speare.

JCU Research Fellow Dr Lee Skerratt confirmed that it was the spread of the disease that had caused its emergence.

In 2008, chytridiomycosis was declared ‘notifiable’ by the OIE, the world organization for animal health, following research conducted by JCU.

Future Fellowships are a scheme for mid-career researchers, administered by the ARC.

The $50,000 year project funding is matched by JCU with $30,000 year.