For the first time ever the Department of Environment, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Montserrat National Trust have successfully cleared deadly amphibian chytrid fungus from a population of captive mountain chicken frogs in a facility that replicates a wild setting.
This fantastic result represents what is believed to be a world-first, not just for this species, but for amphibians globally.
Last year, a group of 27 captive-bred mountain chicken frogs from Jersey Zoo and ZSL London Zoo were reintroduced into semi-wild enclosures on their native island of Montserrat, with the aim of restoring a population of this once-abundant frog to the island.
Now, over a year later, the team are delighted to reveal that the frogs have faced the fungus and survived. This marks the first time that reintroduced amphibians have been confirmed to do so; previous releases have unfortunately rapidly succumbed to the effects of the disease.
Chytrid infection was first seen within the reintroduced population in April this year, right in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown and the greatest dry spell the Eastern Caribbean region had experienced in 80 years. Scientists and field biologists from Durrell and the Government of Montserrat’s Department of Environment quickly intervened and managed to successfully eliminate the fungus from the semi-wild enclosures.
To do so, they modified treatment protocol developed during previous releases, which utilised anti-fungal treatment and rehydration salts shown to reduce short-term risk from the disease, explained the Department of Environment. This time however, the team were able to fully clear infection.
The results of the team’s efforts have huge implications for amphibians worldwide, providing a proven tool to facilitate survival of these valuable species at risk. It is thought that many species could benefit from similar management.
Durrell’s Luke Jones, Project Coordinator for the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme, said, “To have successfully reached this milestone in the first year since release is absolutely phenomenal. There is still plenty of work to be done, as we look to determine whether our environmental manipulation techniques, currently being tested in the enclosure, can prevent or limit future outbreaks of the disease.”
To add to this success, fertile mountain chicken frog nests have also been confirmed on the island for the first time in nearly a decade, though none of the tadpoles have yet survived to become young frogs. “Given the results this year, we believe that it’s only a matter of time until we see successful breeding attempts,” stated Luke. He added, “It could
still be several years until this point as the frogs released are still young.”
The Department of Environment noted that it is refreshing to hear, the calls of mountain chicken frogs once again weaving back into the night-time tapestry of the island and we can start talking about what their future looks like beyond just a year.
The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (MCRP) is a partnership consisting of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Montserrat’s Department of Environment, the Zoological Society of London, Chester Zoo, Nordens Ark, Bristol Zoo and the governments of Dominica and Montserrat.
Chytridiomycosis (or chytrid fungus) is a deadly fungal infection that has decimated amphibian populations worldwide. In excess of 100 species have been lost to the disease, and around 500 other species impacted by the fungus face the imminent risk of extinction.
The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme
The initiative utilises novel habitat manipulation methods, such as removing areas of canopy and introducing solar-heated water systems to actively raise the temperature of areas within the habitat to over 30°C year-round. These initiatives are designed to monopolise on the fungus’ inability to survive temperatures exceeding 30°C, and the behavioural traits of amphibians suffering infection to seek bathing sites and warm areas. The project is a component of the longer term MCRP programme for Montserrat and Dominica
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an international charity working to save species from extinction. Headquartered at Jersey Zoo in the Channel Islands, Durrell focuses on the most threatened species in the most threatened places.
Established by author and conservationist, Gerald Durrell, in 1959, Durrell’s overall aim is for more diverse, beautiful, and resilient natural landscapes in which species can thrive and people can enjoy a deeper connection with nature. Their approach concentrates on the rewilding of animals, the rewilding of ecosystems and the rewilding of people.