Like any good biologist, Mary Liz Jameson wanted her students to do something relevant.
And they’ve done it.
Students working with Jameson in her Wichita State University field ecology class over the last three years have confirmed the fears of anyone in Kansas who likes frogs: They found an amphibian-killing fungus called chytrid in streams and ponds of Kansas.
They found it in several streams and ponds near Wichita, and in Wichita at Chisholm Creek Park, near 32nd Street North and Oliver. WSU released a statement earlier this year outlining the basics of what Jameson and her students found, including a warning from one of her graduate students, Timothy Eberl.
Eberl said in the news release that this has implications beyond the death of frogs.
“We are speaking of possible keystone species within the aquatic environments of this state, and the potential trickle-down effect may have a longer reach than even we realize,” he said.
Chytrid has killed millions of frogs worldwide, and no one seems to know what to do. This is not a small thing, Jameson said.
Frogs and other amphibians are part of the planet’s web of life; when one web strand suffers, so do all the other strands.
Chytrid, she said, “is a huge, big deal. A lot of species worldwide are on the edge of extinction. Frogs are not becoming resistant to it.”
Like all biologists, she worries about what she says is an increase in afflictions killing a variety of creatures. Are humans partly responsible? Yes, she said. Fishermen can spread the fungus in bait buckets from pond to stream to river to reservoirs to stream again.
Is the die-off of amphibians from chytrid a sort of canary-in-the-coal-mine warning, that humans using toxins, pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics might be creating unforeseen problems that might come back to haunt them? Yes, she said.
There has been a mass die-off of honeybees – “colony collapse disorder,” it is called – and some scientists and beekeepers warn that pesticides are likely involved, Jameson said. Various dangerous viruses that scientists had not encountered before “are cranking up in the environment,” she said.
Scientists worry that humans might be causing this, not only with chemicals but with climate change.
An affliction called white nose fungus is killing millions of bats, Jameson said; no one knows why, or to what extent human activity contributes.
At stake, she said: our own survival, maybe. We depend on these creatures more than most of us know.
“I don’t want to be the person ringing the bell and crying wolf,” Jameson said. “But I do want to raise questions.”