On March 3, Dr. Michael Lannoo, Professor, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine, spoke to a crowded Dean’s Auditorium about "Malformed Frogs and the Collapse of Aquatic Ecosystems", also the title of his newest book (released in July 2008). Dr. Lannoo is an expert on amphibian declines and malformations and has been instrumental in the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF) and Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC in the Midwest. His 1998 book, Status and Conservation of Midwestern Amphibians and his 2005 book Amphibian Declines: Conservation Status of United States Species has been key to conserving and understanding amphibians and their plight.
The three reasons for malformations are genetic, epigenetic and trauma, with epigenetic being the main cause. Epigenetic malformations are caused by an outside source causing the genes to change. (ie..parasites, pesticides). Much of Lannoo’s work was a collaboration with parasitologist Dan Sutherland, and their findings show that many of the cases thought to be parasites, after a radiogram (x-ray) did not seem to be possible to have been caused by parasites. Many of the cases assumed to be trauma, after a radiogram, showed curved bones and other signs not possible to have been caused by predation. Bony Triangles (a phrase Lannoo coined) have been found in many frogs with malformations. Many of the malformations found did not exactly fit into any of the dubbed categories. "Distinguishments we make as humans are not always followed by the animals."
50% of the frogs in the US are malformed, while 10% of salamanders are shown to be malformed. He said he believes this is more related to more frogs being studied and that frogs are easier to find and less secretive. Globally, Europe has the most malformations, followed by North America. He said he has been to Antarctica and can assure us there is no amphibian problems there.
Lannoo said he was said to say that Science has failed the public on this issue. The Public came to Science worried that the malformations and declines would become a problem for humans as well, and Science looked for the causes, but not the cure. He mentioned Love Canal to bring this into perspective. His advice is simple, whether the cause is pesticides caused from runoff, or parasites, caused by increased trematodes from eutrification, caused by runoff, runoff is the main problem and they key to fixing this. He called today, "Post Atrazine Mad Max Thunderdome kind of world."
Drought has shown to be beneficial to the malformation problems helping to control the algae blooms that host more parasites. There is also evidence to show some frogs are developing resistance to parasites, pesticides, and even to the chytrid fungus that is such a global amphibian problem.
While much of this issue is "gloom and doom", I left with a feeling of rejuvenated hope that we can still save the frogs, and ourselves along the way.