TAMPA - In a first floor laboratory at USF, critters start off as tadpoles and grow to be a mature frog, just like they would in the wild.
From what one can observe outside their containers, they appear normal. The reality, however, is that they are all dying.
"They're kind of a poster child, unfortunately, for species extinction," said USF biologist Matthew Venesky. "They're declining all over the world."
Two floors up from the frogs is a jar filed with the chytrid fungus, considered by some to be the most deadly organism next to humans, responsible for rampant frog extinction worldwide.
"Amphibians are considered the most threatened vertebrate taxon on the globe, vertebrates being anything with a spine," explained USF Associate Biology Professor Jason Rohr, who led the research study. "A substantial portion are completely wiped off the planet."
According to Rohr, the fungus isn't killing frogs alone. It's helped by climate change. His research focuses on increasingly common temperature changes in frog habitats, dramatic drops from hot to cold.
"The idea there is, if you raise the ceiling, you have further to fall," Rohr said.
Because that fall affects the frogs more than the fungus, the fungus survives while the frogs lose their ability to fight, eventually dying of a heart attack.
That matters to these researchers because of what frogs means for humans. The combination of climate change and the fungus' international path may help scientists chart a new pattern for the spread of infectious diseases.
More immediately, though, frogs eat pests like flies and mosquitoes. They are also the source of many cancer, high blood pressure, and HIV drugs, as well as commonly used pain killers.
All of which may disappear if they do.
"What we hope is to understand why they're dying so that maybe we can come up with some solution," Venesky said.
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