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Biologists explore link between amphibian behavior and deadly disease
Date:2/27/2013

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 27, 2013 -- In a new study, biologists will investigate the connection between amphibians' social habits and a disease that has killed a record number of frogs, toads and salamanders worldwide.

This week, San Francisco State University biologists received a $595,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the relationship between amphibian social behavior and a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). This harmful fungus attacks an amphibian's skin and causes the disease Chytridiomycosis.

Many animals have evolved social or cooperative behaviors that increase their chances of survival. Among amphibians, frogs sometimes huddle together in piles for warmth, and some salamanders lay their eggs in communal nests, perhaps to help each other ward off predators.

"We are investigating the evolution of amphibians' social behavior after a deadly disease shows up by comparing populations with and without a history of this fungal pathogen," said Andy Zink, assistant professor of biology at SF State. Zink is principal investigator on the three-year NSF-funded project, which he will conduct in collaboration with SF State biologist Vance Vredenburg.

In the last 30 years, the Bd fungus appears to have wiped out nearly 400 amphibian species across the world. Because the spores of the fungus are water borne, it is likely to spread among land-dwelling amphibians through skin to skin contact. Therefore, Zink and Vredenburg believe that terrestrial amphibian populations with a longer history of the disease may have evolved away from communal nesting, since this social habit may help the fungus spread.

"If life depends on it, animal behavior can evolve quite rapidly, even in 5-10 years," Zink said. Most animal behaviors have a genetic basis -- an individual's genes shape whether they will be gregarious or antisocial. If being cooperative aids the survival of individuals or their offspring, natural selec
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Contact: Elaine Bible
ebible@sfsu.edu
415-405-3606
San Francisco State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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