Tainted Toes

Scientists have found one more way that a deadly fungus may be spreading among amphibians: via the toes of wild geese.

The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is a well-known killer of amphibians around the world. How the pathogen is transmitted, though, is less clear. Infected amphibians without symptoms are probably contributing to the spread, but scientists haven’t been sure if other species are also to blame.

Researchers tested 397 wild geese from Belgium and found that 76 birds were carrying B. dendrobatidis on their toes. Lab tests showed that goose toe scales tended to attract the fungus, the team reports in PLoS ONE. The fungus could also survive in dry conditions on the toe scales for half an hour, long enough for geese to fly 30 kilometers.

Geese might not come into contact with amphibians that often: the birds flock to wetlands, rivers, and lakes rather than ponds. But when the two groups of animals do mix, the geese’s funky feet may be helping to transmit the pathogen. Roberta Kwok | 17 April 2012

Source: Garmyn, A. et al. 2012. Waterfowl: Potential environmental reservoirs of the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035038.

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