Scientists have been alarmed about the widespread decline in amphibian populations since the late 1980s. The affected areas are primarily in North America and Australia. Since many of these regions are designated conservation areas, the reasons commonly associated with the decline of native populations habitat destruction and exotic species are unlikely to be the causal agents here. For this reason, other potential candidate causes are being considered, including changes in the environment and pathogens (a fungus and a virus).
This NSF funded project is aimed at understanding the role of pathogens in causing the decline. The principal question being asked is: Why are pathogens causing some amphibian populations to decline, even to extinction? Specific questions include: How do pathogens influence host pathogen dynamics? Have recent environmental changes altered amphibian-pathogen interactions? Other specific issues being addressed can be seen in Objectives.
Metaphorically, the problem being studied is like a prism in reverse: instead of dispersing colors, it focuses research disciplines, so that they no longer appear individually. Therefore, the project has a strong problem-solving focus designed to enhance collaboration and encourage pursuit of answers beyond the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines. For this reason it harnesses the expertise of an international team from diverse disciplines, making the project unique for a non-human host-pathogen study. The various perspectives and research disciplines to be integrated include ecology, evolution, organismal biology, genetics, pathology and immunology. Such an approach will significantly advance the understanding of the important problem at hand, and perhaps also allow us to draw some useful conclusions regarding host-pathogen biology in general.
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