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Mystery Fungus to Be Studied at University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory April 19, 2005 ascribe.org
AIKEN, S.C., April 19 (AScribe Newswire) -- A natural history mystery will be the subject of scrutiny for Betsie Rothermel, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL). Rothermel, along with Whit Gibbons, a professor of ecology at SREL, has received a $30,800 grant ($10,000 awarded in the first year) to look at the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, a deadly disease in amphibians, known to be responsible for die-offs of frogs in Australia and Panama.
The grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Interior, provides for two years of study in the U.S. National Parks. Rothermel said a recently completed survey by SREL of reptiles and amphibians in the southeastern National Parks will help her target areas for sampling in the current study.
"I'll be looking for the incidence of chytrid fungus in frogs and tadpoles collected in the National Parks. I will sample adult frogs by swabbing their skin and tadpoles by examining mouthparts, which may be deformed in infected individuals," said Rothermel. She will concentrate her work at the Congaree National Park in South Carolina and at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Georgia.
"Although it's not clear which species might be at higher risk of infection, for now we will target pickerel, leopard and other frogs in the Ranidae family," said Rothermel. "No one really knows where this fungus comes from or how it persists in the environment. We think temperature plays a role, because the die-offs documented so far have all occurred in cooler, high-elevation sites." She said no die-offs in the southeastern United States can be traced to the fungus but it has been found in specimens that date back to the 1970s.
Rothermel will be looking primarily at frogs, but said she has a strong interest in finding out whether the fungus also affects salamanders. New genetic tests can help identify the fungus in her samples - with one hitch. "If we find it, that will tell us it is more widespread than we thought, but if we don't, we can't say for certain it isn't there without more intensive sampling," she said.