Remember when you were little and enjoyed looking for tiny creatures to stuff into a shoe box aquarium? My friends and I would pluck frogs from the neighborhood pond and then spend hours setting up a cage with water, leaves and twigs so they would feel “at home.” Funny that it never occurred to us they might just like to stay in the pond….

Unfortunately, our kids might not have the pleasure of kidnapping amphibians for close-up inspection. Scientists have recently realized that the wild temperature shifts that signal global climate change might be accelerating amphibian extinction.

Thankfully, scorching temperatures aren’t slowly boiling frogs and other amphibians in their watery houses. Instead, recent research suggests climate change is accelerating fatalities among amphibians infected with chytridiomycosis, which is caused by the parasitic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).

To test their hypothesis, scientists at Oakland University observed Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) infected with Bd. Some frogs were kept at a constant temperature, while others were exposed to changing temperatures. Some experienced structured temperature change, to mimic normal fluctuations between night and day, while others experienced unnatural fluctuations.

“Across daily and monthly timescales, unpredictable variation in temperature increased B. dendrobatidis growth on amphibians, a taxon experiencing global declines associated with disease,” explains the study, recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “Thus, our results suggest that decreases in climate predictability associated with climate change could increase B. dendrobatidis and amphibian declines.”

Rather than establishing a causal link between climate change and the lethal fungus, scientists say that fluctuating temperatures are hindering the ability of frogs’ immune systems to fight off the infection. They say it’s possible other species will be affected in a similar fashion as evidence of climate change increases, but further study is required before that extrapolation can be made.

Main photo credit: Forrest Brem