Korea, Geopolitics, and Frogs

May 28, 2018

Credit Jack Hamilton / https://bit.ly/2IRYLCs

The Korean peninsula is at the center of global geopolitics right now. It might also be ground zero for the global decline of amphibians. And, strangely, the two might be connected. 


For years, the die-off of frogs and other amphibians around the globe was a mystery. Then, in 1998, scientists pointed the finger not at a chemical, as many had suspected, but at a fungus. In particular, a kind of fungus known as chytrid fungus. Now, twenty years later, researchers say they’ve traced that deadly fungus back to the Korean peninsula. 

Mat Fisher is a professor in the school of public health at Imperial College London, and he’s the senior author on the new study published in the journal Science. He says that scientists have known for twenty years that this fungus is killing frogs, but this study highlights its origins. 

Fisher says that it matters where the fungus came from because "it’s unlikely that this happened just once.  There’s the possibility that it could happen again." Once you establish where a “hot zone” is, you can think of new ways to prevent the emergence of those diseases.

The paper establishes that amphibians that are in the pet trade are impacted, but there are two are types of fungus: one from Korea, and another from Vietnam.  

Fisher has a hypothesis regarding global wars and the emergence of the fungus. The paper times the emergence of the killer lineage to the early 20th-century, but the peak was in the 1950s. He believes that frogs were moved passively by the 6-million service people that were traveling around the world during the Korean and Vietnam wars. It's conjecture, he says, but "this is the period that it did expand across the planet."