High levels of nutrients used in farming and ranching activities fuel parasite infections that have caused highly publicized frog deformities in ponds and lakes across North America, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The study showed increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus cause sharp hikes in the abundance and reproduction of a snail species that hosts microscopic parasites known as trematodes, said Assistant Professor Pieter Johnson of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department. The nutrients stimulate algae growth, increasing snail populations and the number of infectious parasites released by snails into ponds and lakes. The parasites subsequently form cysts in the developing limbs of tadpoles causing missing limbs, extra limbs and other severe malformations, Johnson said.
"This is the first study to show that nutrient enrichment drives the abundance of these parasites, increasing levels of amphibian infection and subsequent malformations," said Johnson. "The research has implications for both worldwide amphibian declines and for a wide array of diseases potentially linked to nutrient pollution, including cholera, malaria, West Nile virus and diseases affecting coral reefs."
Johnson is the lead author of a study on the subject published online the week of Sept. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors include Jonathan Chase from Washington University, Katherine Dosch, Richard Hartson, Daniel Sutherland and Stephen Carpenter from the University of Wisconsin, Jackson Gross from the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and Don Larson from University of Alaska. The National Science Foundation funded the work.
Deformed frogs first gained international attention in the mid-1990s when a group of Minnesota schoolchildren discovered a pond where more than half of the leopard frogs had missing or extra limbs, he
|Contact: Pieter Johnson|
University of Colorado at Boulder