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The Big Swab 2011 - Press release 6th April 2011 PDF Print
Written by Jon Cranfield   
Wednesday, 06 April 2011 00:00

 Toad task force

An army of volunteers will be wading into ponds across the UK to map the spread of a killer amphibian fungus.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are working with 400 volunteers recruited from the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG-UK) to swab more than 6,000 amphibians for the presence of chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).

Teams of volunteers will be heading out after dark between April and June to swab amphibians in more than

 200 ponds across the UK. The Defra-funded survey will include 100 more sites than the last chytrid survey in 2008, with volunteers in action in Northern Ireland for the first time.

In addition to sampling common toads, natterjack toads and the UK's three species of native newt, volunteers will also be swabbing non-native species such as the alpine newt and marsh frog. ZSL scientists are targeting new species and covering more locations in a bid to create a fuller picture of the UK's chytrid infection.

Chytrid fungus causes the disease chytridiomycosis, which results in the thickening of amphibian skin preventing the transfer of vital salts across their skin. Scientists are now racing against time to understand how the deadly disease is spread and what species are most at risk.

"Chytrid has had devastating effects on amphibian populations across the globe, even causing some species to become extinct. It is essential that we understand where the fungus occurs in the UK so that we can identify the toads and newts that are under threat from succumbing to the disease," said Freya Smith, scientific coordinator of the survey at ZSL.

Jonathan Cranfield, vice-chair of ARG-UK said: "The volunteers play a critical role in helping us to understand what is happening in our ponds. Ensuring the future of our best-loved amphibians would not be possible without the dedication and enthusiasm of the volunteer network."

The volunteers will collect samples of DNA from 30 amphibians at each site by swabbing the surface of their skin. The samples will then be analysed in laboratories at ZSL to check for the presence of chytrid fungus.


Press office contact: Victoria Picknell, 020 7449 6361 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  


Notes to Editors

  • Chytridiomycosis is a non-native fungal disease that infects the skin of amphibians, a vital organ through which many drink and breathe. It was identified in 1998 by an international team of scientists led by ZSL. It is believed to have originated in Africa, with the export of African clawed frogs around the world for human pregnancy testing and lab studies spreading the disease worldwide. Recently, the food and pet trades may have contributed to the problem as well. The disease is thought to have been responsible for catastrophic declines in some Australian, North American, Central American, South American and Caribbean species. The situation in Europe is less clear through a lack of data, although some species have seriously declined in upland areas of Spain.
  • Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats.  The Society runs ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide. For further information please visit www.zsl.org or @zsllondonzoo 
  • Formerly the Herpetofauna Groups of Britain & Ireland (HGBI) the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG-UK) is the national network of county amphibian & reptile groups in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Channel Islands. The network is made up of over 40 groups, and individuals acting on an entirely voluntary basis to provide on the ground conservation for the UK's herpetofauna (amphibians & reptiles) for more information please visit www.arguk.org Check up on the progress of the survey on @ARGgroupsUK