, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 35–40 | Cite as

The Decline of the Sharp-Snouted Day Frog (Taudactylus acutirostris): The First Documented Case of Extinction by Infection in a Free-Ranging Wildlife Species?

  • Lisa M. Schloegel
  • Jean-Marc Hero
  • Lee Berger
  • Rick Speare
  • Keith McDonald
  • Peter Daszak


Infectious diseases are increasingly recognized as the cause of mass mortality events, population declines, and the local extirpation of wildlife species. In a number of cases, it has been hypothesized that pathogens have caused species extinctions in wildlife. However, there is only one definitively proven case of extinction by infection, and this was in a remnant captive population of a Polynesian tree snail. In this article, we review the potential involvement of infectious disease in the recent extinction of the sharp-snouted day frog Taudactylus acutirostris. Our review of available evidence suggests that a virulent pathogen of amphibians, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, caused a rapid, catastrophic decline of this species, from which it did not recover. We propose that this is the first case of extinction by infection of a free-ranging wildlife species where disease acted as both the proximate and ultimate cause of extinction. This highlights a probable underreporting of infectious disease as a cause of biodiversity loss historically and currently.


amphibian decline conservation medicine chytridiomycosis Batrachochytrium Taudactylus extinction 



This work was funded in part by core funding to the Consortium for Conservation Medicine from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation. We thank Astrid Kann Rasmussen for her insightful comments. Lisa Schloegel is supported by an National Science Foundation IRCEB award (DEB-02133851), The New York Community Trust and funding from the Eppley Foundation.


  1. Aguirre AA, Ostfeld RS, Tabor GM, House C, Pearl MC (editors) (2002) Conservation Medicine: Ecological Health in Practice, New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  2. Banks C, McCracken H (2002) Captive management and pathology of sharp snouted dayfrogs, Taudactylus acutirostris, at Melbourne and Taronga zoos. In: Natrass AEO (editor), Frogs in the Community. Proceedings of the Brisbane Symposium of the Queensland Frog Society, East Brisbane, Brisbane: Queensland Frog Society, pp 94–102Google Scholar
  3. Berger L, Speare R, Daszak P, Green DE, Cunningham AA, Goggin CL, et al. (1998) Chytridiomycosis causes amphibian mortality associated with population declines in the rain forests of Australia and Central America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 95:9031–9036CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berger L, Speare R, Hyatt A (1999) Chytrid fungi and amphibian declines: overview, implications and future directions. In: Campbell A (editor), Declines and Disappearances of Australian Frogs, Canberra: Environment Australia, pp 23–33Google Scholar
  5. Blaustein AR, Wake DB (1990) Declining amphibian populations: a global phenomenon. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 5:203–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bosch J, Martinez-Solano I, Garcia-Paris M (2001) Evidence of a chytrid fungus infection involved in the decline of the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) in protected areas of central Spain. Biological Conservation 97:331–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Broomhall SD, Osborne WS, Cunningham RB (2000) Comparative effects of ambient ultraviolet-B radiation in two sympatric species of Australian frogs. Conservation Biology 14:420–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carlton JT, Vermeij GJ, Lindberg DR, Carlton DA, Dudley EC (1991) The 1st historical extinction of a marine invertebrate in an ocean basin—the demise of the eelgrass limpet Lottia alveus. Biological Bulletin 180:72–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coote T, Loeve E (2003) From 61 species to five: endemic tree snails of the Society Islands fall prey to an ill-judged biological control programme. Oryx 37:91–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cunningham AA, Daszak P (1998) Extinction of a species of land snail due to infection with a microsporidian parasite. Conservation Biology 12:1139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Daszak P, Cunningham AA (1999) Extinction by infection. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 14:279CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Daszak P, Cunningham AA, Hyatt AD (2000) Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife—threats to biodiversity and human health. Science 287:443–449CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Daszak P, Cunningham AA, Hyatt AD (2003) Infectious disease and amphibian population declines. Diversity and Distributions 9:141–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Diamond JM (1984) “Normal” extinctions of isolated populations. In: Nitecki MH (editor), Extinctions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp 191–246Google Scholar
  15. Dobson A, Foufopoulos J (2001) Emerging infectious pathogens of wildlife. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 356:1001–1012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fellers GM, Green DE, Longcore JE (2001) Oral chytridiomycosis in the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa). Copeia 4:945–953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Garner TWJ, Walker S, Bosch J, Hyatt AD, Cunningham AA, Fisher MC (2005) Chytrid fungus in Europe. Emerg Infect Dis 11:1639–1640PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Ginsberg JR, Mace GM, Albon S (1995) Local extinction in a small and declining population: wild dogs in the Serengeti. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 262:221–228 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guiler ER (1961) The former distribution and decline of the thylacine. Australian Journal of Science 23:207–210Google Scholar
  20. Hero J-M, Hines H, Meyer E, Morrison C, Streatfeild C, Roberts L (1998) New records of “declining” frogs in Queensland, Australia. Froglog 29:1–4Google Scholar
  21. Hero J-M, Morrison C (2003) Frog declines in Australia: global implications. Herpetological Journal 14:175–186 Google Scholar
  22. Hopkins S, Channing A (2003) Chytrid fungus in northern and western cape frog populations, South Africa. Herpetological Review 34:334–336 Google Scholar
  23. IUCN (2004) Global amphibian assessment Available: [accessed October 15, 2004]
  24. Lane EP, Weldon C, Bingham J (2003) Histological evidence of chytridiomycete fungal infection in a free-ranging amphibian, Afrana fuscigula (Anura: Ranidae), in South Africa. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association 74:20–21PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Laurance WF, McDonald KR, Speare R (1996) Epidemic disease and the catastrophic decline of Australian rain forest frogs. Conservation Biology 10:406–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Laurance WF, McDonald KR, Speare R (1997) In defense of the epidemic disease hypothesis. Conservation Biology 11:1030–1034CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. MacPhee RDE, Marx PA (1997) The 40,000 year plague: humans, hyperdisease, and first-contact extinctions. In: Natural Change and Human Impact in Madagascar, Goodman SM, Patterson BD (editors), Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, pp 169–217Google Scholar
  28. Marshall CJ (1998) The reappearance of Taudactylus (Anura: Myobatrachidae) in north Queensland streams. Pacific Conservation Biology 4:39–41Google Scholar
  29. McCallum H, Dobson A (1995) Detecting disease and parasite threats to endangered species and ecosystems. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10:190–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McDonald K, Cunningham M, Alford R, Retallick R (2004) Taudactylus acutirostris. Available: [accessed December 1, 2004]
  31. McDonald KR (1992) Distribution patterns and conservation status of north Queensland rainforest frogs. Conservation Technical Report 1, Brisbane: Queensland Department of the Environment and HeritageGoogle Scholar
  32. McDonald KR (1994) Declining frog populations in the wet tropics. Internal Report Conservation Strategy Branch, Atherton: Queensland Department of the Environment and Heritage.Google Scholar
  33. Pimm SL, Russell GJ, Gittleman JL, Brooks TM (1995) The future of biodiversity. Science 269:347–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Richards SJ, McDonald KR, Alford RA (1993) Declines in populations of Australia’s endemic tropical forest frogs. Pacific Conservation Biology 1:66–77Google Scholar
  35. Ron SR, Duellman WE, Coloma LA, Bustamante MR (2003) Population decline of the Jambato toad Atelopus ignescens (Anura: Bufonidae) in the Andes of Ecuador. Journal of Herpetology 37:116–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Simoncelli F, Fagotti A, Dall’Olio R, Vagnetti D, Pascolini R, Di Rosa I (2005) Evidence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis infection in water frogs of the Rana esculenta complex in Central Italy. Ecohealth 2:307–312 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Soule M, Wilcox BA (editors) (1980) Conservation Biology: An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective, Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates Google Scholar
  38. Stuart SN, Chanson JS, Cox NA, Young BE, Rodrigues ASL, Fischman DL, et al. (2004) Status and trends of amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide. Science 306:1783–1786CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Thomas CD, Cameron A, Green RE, Bakkenes M, Beaumont LJ, Collingham YC, et al. (2004) Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427:145–148CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Thorne ET, Williams ES (1988) Disease and endangered species: the black-footed ferret as a recent example. Conservation Biology 2:66–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Van Riper C III, Van Riper SG, Goff LM, Laird M (1986) The epizootiology and ecological significance of malaria in Hawaiian land birds. Ecological Monographs 56:327–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Waldman B, van de Wolfshaar KE, Klena JD, Andjic V, Bishop P, Norman RJDB (2001) Chytridiomycosis in New Zealand frogs. Surveillance 28:9–11Google Scholar
  43. Warner RE (1968) The role of introduced disease in the extinction of the endemic Hawaiian avifauna. Condor 70:101–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Weinhold B (2003) Conservation medicine: combining the best of all worlds. Environmental Health Perspectives 111:A524–A529PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weldon C (2002) Chytridiomycosis survey in South Africa. Froglog 51:1–2Google Scholar
  46. Weldon C, Preez LHD, Hyatt AD, Muller R, Speare R (2004) Origin of the amphibian chytrid fungus. Emerging Infectious Diseases 10:2100–2105PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilcox BA (1986) Extinction models and conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 1:46–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Williams SE, Hero JM (1998) Rainforest frogs of the Australian wet tropics: guild classification and the ecological similarity of declining species. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 265:597–602CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Woodroffe R (1999) Managing disease threats to wild mammals. Animal Conservation 2:185–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Young BE, Lips KR, Reaser JK, Ibanez R, Salas AW, Cedeno JR, et al. (2001) Population declines and priorities for amphibian conservation in Latin America. Conservation Biology 15:1213–1223CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa M. Schloegel
    • 1
  • Jean-Marc Hero
    • 2
  • Lee Berger
    • 3
  • Rick Speare
    • 3
  • Keith McDonald
    • 4
  • Peter Daszak
    • 1
  1. 1.Consortium for Conservation MedicineNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Griffith University Gold CoastQueenslandAustralia
  3. 3.James Cook UniversityQueenslandAustralia
  4. 4.Queensland Parks and Wildlife ServiceQueenslandAustralia

Personalised recommendations