Salt may be the cure for a devastating disease wiping out our frogs, scientists say

By AG Staff February 5, 2018
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Ordinary pool salt may provide a cure for a debilitating disease that has so far driven one third of the world’s frogs to the brink of extinction.

CHYTRID DISEASE IS responsible for wiping out six species of Australian frogs and pushing seven other species to the brink of extinction since the disease first arrived in the 1970s. But now scientists believe that ordinary pool salts may stop the spread of the disease. 

According to head researcher Simon Clulow, chytrid is a type of fungus that transmits disease by releasing zoospores that attack the keratin in frog skin and halts the flow of electrolytes, which eventually kills them.

Given the highly infectionous nature of the disease Simon was focussed on finding a way to stop it from travelling from one frog to another, an issue which has thwarted previous attempts at frog conservation.

“Translocations are a popular way for conservationists to fight extinction around the globe, however so many of these programs fail because disease is still present or eventually establishes in the translocation site,” said Simon.

Ordinary salt, a potential cure

Simon first realised the potential of salt after several isolated populations of endangered Australian green and golden bell frogs persisted with chytrid near the coast, while other inland populations fell victim to the disease.

See more: Time is running out for these seven frog species

To test his theory he used low-cost swimming pool salt to elevate the sailinity of ponds used by another population of Australian Green and Golden bell frogs.

“This study established that by elevating salt levels very slightly – we’re still talking fresh water that you could drink, we can block the disease and lower the transmission rate,” said Simon.

“The Green and Golden Bell frog had a 70 per cent increased survival rate when translocated into habitats where small amounts of salt were added to the water.

“This is an incredible outcome and gives us the first viable treatment option for chytrid in the wild.”

Simon now intends to re-trial the study in other parts of the world where frog populations are being decimated by the chytrid disease.

See more: The frogs of Australia

“We are planning to visit a similar translocation program currently underway in Ecuador, where habitat is being constructed for a translocation program for the endangered Riobamba marsupial frog,” Simon said.

“This offers an ideal system to further test our salt strategy. If we can show that this works just as well on the other side of the globe, it should provide further proof of concept that this strategy could help declining frogs everywhere.”

The results were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.