An Entire Frog Species Was Almost Wiped Out by a Deadly Fungus, But Then They Evolved


We’re witnessing evolution happen in front of our eyes, and it’s incredible.

Within a decade of a massive die off due to a fungus commonly known as chytrid, the frog species left in El Copé, Panama developed the ability to coexist with the deadly fungus.

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In a later field study, the researchers found that frogs infected with the fungus survived at a nearly identical rate compared with uninfected frogs.

In 2004, the frogs of El Copé, Panama, began dying by the thousands. The culprit: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Within months, roughly half of the frog species native to the area went locally extinct.

What happened?

New research, which appears in Ecological Applications, suggests that the frogs underwent ecological and/or evolutionary changes that enabled the community as a whole to persist, despite severe species losses.

The results could mean good news for other hotspots of amphibian biodiversity hit hard by the chytrid fungus, such as South America and Australia, researchers say.

“Our results are really promising because they lead us to conclude that the El Copé frog community is stabilizing and not drifting to extinction,” says lead author Graziella DiRenzo, a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University.

“That’s a big concern with chytrid worldwide. Before this study, we didn’t know a lot about the communities that remain after an outbreak,” DiRenzo says.

DiRenzo and her colleagues returned to the same small, two-square-kilometer field site in El Copé every year from 2010 to 2014.

They broke the field site down into smaller, 20-meter subsites, repeatedly sampling the subsites several days in a row within a season. Each time, the researchers tested individual frogs for the presence of the fungus while assessing the severity of any disease symptoms.

The researchers then developed a novel model to assess disease dynamics in communities beset by an outbreak. The frequent, repeated sampling of frogs in the field allowed the team to minimize biases in the model and enabled the researchers to conclude that infected frogs were surviving at the same rate as uninfected frogs.

This surprising result strongly suggested that the frog species remaining in El Copé developed the ability to tolerate the fungus and survive its deadly effects.

“Our statistical model allowed us to estimate amphibian survival and disease dynamics in a case where the small size of the remaining amphibian community prohibits the use of more traditional analysis methods,” says coauthor Elise Zipkin, an assistant professor in the integrative biology department.

“This new modeling framework offers unprecedented opportunities to examine the factors impacting small and declining populations decimated by disease.”

‘Eco-evolutionary rescue’

The researchers suggest that the El Copé frog community stabilized through an effect known as “eco-evolutionary rescue.”

In this scenario, some species may have evolved tolerance to the fungus while other highly infectious species died off and stopped contributing to the spread of the pathogen.

The fungus itself may have also become less virulent and the frog community as a whole may have undergone other types of restructuring.

The researchers note that, because researchers had studied the frog community in El Copé for years before the 2004 outbreak, the research site provides a rare window to assess changes to a frog community as a result of widespread chytrid infection.

If the community has stabilized here, the researchers say, it is likely that other hard-hit frog communities elsewhere in the world may have undergone similar adaptations—even where disease has reduced the overall number of species and/or individuals.

“The frogs of El Copé are not doing great, but they’re hanging on. The fact that some species survived is the most important thing,” says coauthor Karen Lips, a biology professor at the University of Maryland.

“If enough frog species in a given place can survive and persist, then hopefully someday a vibrant new frog community will replace what was lost.”

There is a type of fungus that can instantly induce orgasms in women with its smell


The medicinal qualities of certain plants and herbs are well known, and these types of natural remedies been used to heal people for thousands of years. However, there is one much less well-known type of fungus with an unusual but potentially very important power.

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The fungus, which appears to only grow on Hawaiian lava flows that are between 600 and 1,000 years old, can apparently induce spontaneous orgasms in women when they smell it.

The fungus, an unnamedDictyophora species, was described by medical scientsists John C Holliday and Noah Soule in 2001.

They published their findings in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, and said the bright orange fungus has a reputation as a “potent female aphrodisiac when smelled.”

Interested to find out whether it lived up to its reputation, the two conducted a test on volunteers.

As the journal says: “Indeed, nearly half of the female test subjects experienced spontaneous orgasms while smelling this mushroom.”

The two hypothesised that the hormone-like compounds presents in the fungus’s spores may be similar to the human neurotransmitters released during sexual encounters.

The mushroom’s “fetid” smell didn’t seem to have the same effect on the male test subjects, however.

Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus


Hidden under your feet is an information superhighway that allows plants to communicate and help each other out. It’s made of fungi

The roots of shoots can form a hidden network (credit: Mycatkins CC by 2.0)

It’s an information superhighway that speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population of individuals. It allows individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out. But it also allows them to commit new forms of crime.

No, we’re not talking about the internet, we’re talking about fungi. While mushrooms might be the most familiar part of a fungus, most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants. That tree in your garden is probably hooked up to a bush several metres away, thanks to mycelia.

The more we learn about these underground networks, the more our ideas about plants have to change. They aren’t just sitting there quietly growing. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network. This “wood wide web”, it turns out, even has its own version of cybercrime.

Around 90% of land plants are in mutually-beneficial relationships with fungi. The 19th-century German biologist Albert Bernard Frank coined the word “mycorrhiza” to describe these partnerships, in which the fungus colonises the roots of the plant.

Fungi have been called ‘Earth’s natural internet’

In mycorrhizal associations, plants provide fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates. In exchange, the fungi help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, via their mycelia. Since the 1960s, it has been clear that mycorrhizae help individual plants to grow.

Fungal networks also boost their host plants’ immune systems. That’s because, when a fungus colonises the roots of a plant, it triggers the production of defense-related chemicals. These make later immune system responses quicker and more efficient, a phenomenon called “priming”. Simply plugging in to mycelial networks makes plants more resistant to disease.

But that’s not all. We now know that mycorrhizae also connect plants that may be widely separated. Fungus expert Paul Stamets called them “Earth’s natural internet” in a 2008 TED talk. He first had the idea in the 1970s when he was studying fungi using an electron microscope. Stamets noticed similarities between mycelia and ARPANET, the US Department of Defense’s early version of the internet.

Film fans might be reminded of James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar. On the forest moon where the movie takes place, all the organisms are connected. They can communicate and collectively manage resources, thanks to “some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of trees“. Back in the real world, it seems there is some truth to this.

 It has taken decades to piece together what the fungal internet can do. Back in 1997, Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found one of the first pieces of evidence. She showed that Douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer carbon between them via mycelia. Others have since shown that plants can exchange nitrogen and phosphorus as well, by the same route.

These plants are not really individuals

Simard now believes large trees help out small, younger ones using the fungal internet. Without this help, she thinks many seedlings wouldn’t survive. In the 1997 study, seedlings in the shade – which are likely to be short of food – got more carbon from donor trees.

“These plants are not really individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals competing for survival of the fittest,” says Simard in the 2011 documentary Do Trees Communicate? “In fact they are interacting with each other, trying to help each other survive.”

However, it is controversial how useful these nutrient transfers really are. “We certainly know it happens, but what is less clear is the extent to which it happens,” says Lynne Boddy of Cardiff University in the UK.

 While that argument rages on, other researchers have found evidence that plants can go one better, and communicate through the mycelia. In 2010, Ren Sen Zeng of South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou found that when plants are attached by harmful fungi, they release chemical signals into the mycelia that warn their neighbours.

Tomato plants can ‘eavesdrop’ on defense responses

Zeng’s team grew pairs of tomato plants in pots. Some of the plants were allowed to form mycorrhizae.

Once the fungal networks had formed, the leaves of one plant in each pair were sprayed withAlternaria solani, a fungus that causes early blight disease. Air-tight plastic bags were used to prevent any above-ground chemical signalling between the plants.

After 65 hours, Zeng tried to infect the second plant in each pair. He found they were much less likely to get blight, and had significantly lower levels of damage when they did, if they had mycelia.

We suggest that tomato plants can ‘eavesdrop’ on defense responses and increase their disease resistance against potential pathogen,” Zeng and his colleagues wrote. So not only do the mycorrhizae allow plants to share food, they help them defend themselves.

 It’s not just tomatoes that do this. In 2013 David Johnson of the University of Aberdeen and his colleagues showed thatbroad beans also use fungal networks to pick up on impending threats – in this case, hungry aphids.

Johnson found that broad bean seedlings that were not themselves under attack by aphids, but were connected to those that were via fungal mycelia, activated their anti-aphid chemical defenses. Those without mycelia did not.

“Some form of signalling was going on between these plants about herbivory by aphids, and those signals were being transported through mycorrhizal mycelial networks,” says Johnson.

 But just like the human internet, the fungal internet has a dark side. Our internet undermines privacy and facilitates serious crime – and frequently, allows computer viruses to spread. In the same way, plants’ fungal connections mean they are never truly alone, and that malevolent neighbours can harm them.

For one thing, some plants steal from each other using the internet. There are plants that don’t have chlorophyll, so unlike most plants they cannot produce their own energy through photosynthesis. Some of these plants, such as the phantom orchid, get the carbon they need from nearby trees, via the mycelia of fungi that both are connected to.

Other orchids only steal when it suits them. These “mixotrophs” can carry out photosynthesis, but they also “steal” carbon from other plants using the fungal network that links them.

That might not sound too bad. However, plant cybercrime can be much more sinister than a bit of petty theft.

 Plants have to compete with their neighbours for resources like water and light. As part of that battle, some release chemicals that harm their rivals.

This “allelopathy” is quite common in trees, including acacias, sugarberries, American sycamores and several species of Eucalyptus. They release substances that either reduce the chances of other plants becoming established nearby, or reduce the spread of microbes around their roots.

Sceptical scientists doubt that allelopathy helps these unfriendly plants much. Surely, they say, the harmful chemicals would be absorbed by soil, or broken down by microbes, before they could travel far.

But maybe plants can get around this problem, by harnessing underground fungal networks that cover greater distances. In 2011, chemical ecologist Kathryn Morris and her colleagues set out to test this theory.

 Morris, formerly Barto, grew golden marigolds in containers with mycorrhizal fungi. The pots contained cylinders surrounded by a mesh, with holes small enough to keep roots out but large enough to let in mycelia. Half of these cylinders were turned regularly to stop fungal networks growing in them.

The team tested the soil in the cylinders for two compounds made by the marigolds, which can slow the growth of other plants and kill nematode worms. In the cylinders where the fungi were allowed to grow, levels of the two compounds were 179% and 278% higher than in cylinders without fungi. That suggests the mycelia really did transport the toxins.

The team then grew lettuce seedlings in the soil from both sets of containers. After 25 days, those grown in the more toxin-rich soil weighed 40% less than those in soil isolated from the mycelia. “These experiments show the fungal networks can transport these chemicals in high enough concentrations to affect plant growth,” says Morris, who is now based at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In response, some have argued that the chemicals might not work as well outside the lab. So Michaela Achatz of the Berlin Free University in Germany and her colleagues looked for a similar effect in the wild.

 One of the best-studied examples of allelopathy is the American black walnut tree. It inhibits the growth of many plants, including staples like potatoes and cucumbers, by releasing a chemical called jugalone from its leaves and roots.

Achatz and her team placed pots around walnut trees, some of which fungal networks could penetrate. Those pots contained almost four times more jugalone than pots that were rotated to keep out fungal connections. The roots of tomato seedlings planted in the jugalone-rich soil weighed on average 36% less.

Some especially crafty plants might even alter the make-up of nearby fungal communities. Studies have shown that spotted knapweed, slender wild oat and soft brome can all change the fungal make-up of soils. According to Morris, this might allow them to better target rival species with toxic chemicals, by favouring the growth of fungi to which they can both connect.

Animals might also exploit the fungal internet. Some plants produce compounds to attract friendly bacteria and fungi to their roots, but these signals can be picked up by insects and worms looking for tasty roots to eat. In 2012, Morris suggested that the movement of these signalling chemicals through fungal mycelia may inadvertently advertise the plants presence to these animals. However, she says this has not been demonstrated in an experiment.

 As a result of this growing body of evidence, many biologists have started using the term “wood wide web” to describe the communications services that fungi provide to plants and other organisms.

“These fungal networks make communication between plants, including those of different species, faster, and more effective,” says Morris. “We don’t think about it because we can usually only see what is above ground. But most of the plants you can see are connected below ground, not directly through their roots but via their mycelial connections.”

The fungal internet exemplifies one of the great lessons of ecology: seemingly separate organisms are often connected, and may depend on each other. “Ecologists have known for some time that organisms are more interconnected and interdependent,” says Boddy. The wood wide web seems to be a crucial part of how these connections form.

Fungus could control mosquitoes


Fungus could control mosquitoes, research suggests

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The fungus occurs in soil and kills a whole range of insects

Researchers at Swansea University say a fungus could be the key to controlling mosquitoes.

Fungus Metarhizium anisopliae lives in soil and kills a whole range of insects and researchers say it also affects mosquito larvae if added to the water where the insect breeds.

The insects carry diseases such as yellow fever and malaria.

According to the World Health Organisation malaria causes 800,000 deaths a year world-wide.

The team at Swansea University’s department of bioscience said initial trials are very promising.

“The fungus occurs in soil and kills a whole range of insects but we’ve put it in the water where mosquito larvae breed and it is ingested by the insect and they die,” team member Professor Tariq Butt told BBC Radio Wales.

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It’s quite nice that we’re killing three of the major species of mosquito transmitting a whole range of diseases”

Prof Tariq Butt Swansea University

“Normally what happens is the fungus attaches to its hosts, germinates and penetrates the body of the insect, colonises the insect and in the process the insect dies.

“But, in this case it doesn’t germinate it just stays as spores packed in the body, in the gut, of the insect where it causes stress which activates a number of genes which trigger a whole range of responses leading to the death of the insect.”

Malaria and yellow fever

Further research is now needed to see how the fungus can be introduced as initially it was hoped it would be passed from one insect to another, he added.

 “In the past we were hoping the fungus was going to emerge from the body of the insect then the spores would be carried over to the healthy larvae and create an epidemic, but now what we’re seeing is we’d have to apply the fungus frequently,” he added.

The hope is the research will find a way to control the insect which spreads diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

“It is reported that 300 children die each hour in Africa because of Malaria, but other diseases which are emerging such as dengue (fever) results in thousands of deaths reported across the world and also some of these diseases have been reported in Europe,” said Prof Butt.

“We’ve done a number of trials and it looks very, very promising. Also, it’s quite nice that we’re killing three of the major species of mosquito transmitting a whole range of diseases.”

Kira Jari: The Fungal Viagra Making Bank in the Himalayas .


Forget the wonders of modern chemistry. You don’t need to talk to your doctor about Viagra or Cialis. All you need is a traditional fungus used both as an aphrodisiac and a performance-enhancing drug. The best part? You’ll be helping out developing economies that are thriving on a thirst for the fungus, known as kira jari.

The fungus is rare and used for another purpose: A natural pesticide. It works by mummifying caterpillars, then growing the fungus out the top of their heads. Creepy? Sure, but some of us are kind of into that sort of thing.

Over the last five years or so, Himalayan villagers have become wise to the commercial potential of kira jari. They harvest it, then sell it to local merchants. These merchants then feed the growing demand in Asia’s fast-growing urban centers, as well as that of the west. A single fungus sells for about five bucks. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s more than the average daily wage for a manual laborer in the region. Some villagers can scavenge as many as 40 of these per day, making it a new gold rush for the Himalayas.

Getting the fungus isn’t easy. According to a report on the BBC’s website, some climb as high as 5,000 meters to obtain the rare fungus. Much like gold, it is worth a lot but the work required to obtain kira jari isn’t for the meek. In addition to having to brave harsh climates to find kira jari, it’s rarity means that there are no guarantees that a hunter will find anything at all.

To obtain the fungus, men must crawl around on their hands and knees in the snow. Joint pain, trouble breathing and snow blindness are among the health risks associated with finding the fungus.

Unsurprisingly, the competition is fierce. Many men carry guns while searching to protect themselves from bandits on their way down the mountain. Entire villages battle one another for the right to collect kira jari in certain areas.

All in all, the whole thing is shaping up a bit like the Mexican drug trade. Especially considering that while it’s legal to collect the fungus, it is not legal to sell it. In fact, the village of Bemni was scammed a couple years ago when a trickster showed up and offered a good price for a large crop. He disappeared with the fungus, leaving the village with nothing. Police have confiscated crops as well, though it’s hard to imagine that at least some of them aren’t getting rich off the labor of others.

However, many men are abandoning the cities they once left home for and returning to the countryside to make their living finding the ultimate natural Viagra. One intrepid kira jari collector found 200 and was able to build an impressive two-story home with his earnings.

To collect kira jari one must risk health, wealth and even one’s life to obtain it. However, for many men in one of the poorest parts of the world, it’s a viable option that outweighs any risk.

 

Source: http://blogs.laweekly.com

 

 

‘Indian Viagra’: Caterpillar-Killing Fungus Kira Jari Harvested For Sex And Sports.


One man’s invasive fungus is another man’s sexy time medicine.

A rare fungus that kills caterpillars and then grows in their bodies is being used in some countries as a cash crop, a performance enhancing drug — and even an aphrodisiac, according to BBC.

Know in north India as “kira jari” — or Indian Viagra, to some — the fungus has gained popularity not only for its effects, but because it brings in the dough. Just one dead caterpillar bearing the stuff can yield up to $3, or an entire day’s pay for a manual laborer.

The fungus mummifies its victim that then grows out of its head, the Daily Bhaskar reported. It’s rare because it can only be found at high altitudes in the Indian Himalayas after the snow melts in May or June.

Indians have used Kira jari as a physical stimulant in sports, while many in China use it as a physical stimulant between the sheets.

But before you go out in search of these love bugs, remember that they’re legal to possess in India, but illegal to sell.

If you’re confused about the kira jari, watch the video below. The phenomenon was given the Taiwanese video treatment, so it’ll be even more confusing, but you’ll have a laugh.

Watch the video URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/indian-viagra-caterpillar-fungus_n_1662306.html

On youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wFlWFjXSGZA

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com