Dengue fever, frog fungus, melting Antarctica: 3 big stories you might have missed

tree frog

New Granada cross-banded tree frog in Colombia. (© Robin Moore/iLCP)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Climate change could push tropical diseases to Alaska, according to a new study

Disease-carrying mosquitoes will fly north as their suitable habitat expands due to climate change.

The story: Almost 1 billion people could be newly exposed to dengue fever and Zika virus, tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes, Eric Holthaus reported for Grist last week. Places as far north as Alaska and Finland — locations that were traditionally too cold for disease-carrying mosquitoes to survive — could become home to them if global emissions continue to rise. Climate change will make current suitable habitat too hot for the mosquitoes, bringing some relief to people in warmer climates that will experience record droughts, heat waves and extreme storms because of climate change.

The big picture: Europe will likely be the most affected, and the number of people exposed to mosquitoes that carry dengue fever could double within the next three decades. Mosquitoes aren’t the only disease carrier that will inhabit new locations thanks to climate change — ticks and invasive fungus will also spread into new regions, harming both wildlife and humanity.

Read the story here.

  1. Polar warning: Even Antarctica’s coldest region is starting to melt

The coldest place on Earth has started melting — and yes, it’s because of climate change.

The story: East Antarctica is the coldest place on the planet, but according to a new study, it’s melting — and has already reduced the continent’s size by 20 percent, Nicola Jones reported for Yale Environment 360 last week. The melt rate increased five to eight times after the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in 2002, exposing glaciers to the relatively warm waters of the Southern Ocean.

The big picture: Antarctica holds 90 percent of the planet’s ice and if it melted it could raise global sea levels by approximately 200 feet. While the full effects of Antarctica’s melt won’t be felt for several millennia, its current rate combined with the rapid melting of Greenland’s ice sheet and mountain glaciers worldwide could raise global sea levels 6 feet by the end of this century, covering large swaths of coastline in places such as Florida and burying low-lying islands.

Read the story here.

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  1. Amphibian ‘apocalypse’ caused by most destructive pathogen ever

A pathogen that targets amphibians has harmed global biodiversity more than any other disease in the history of record keeping.

The story: A fungus that degrades the skin of frogs and salamanders has affected 501 species — more than 6 percent of every amphibian species known to science, Michael Greshko reported for National Geographic last week. The fungus, commonly known as chytrid, has caused the extinction (or presumed extinction in the wild) of 90 species of frogs and salamanders.

The big picture: “Chytrid fungus is the most destructive pathogen ever described by science —that’s a pretty shocking realization,” said Wendy Palen, a biologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, who wrote about the study. Amphibians, specifically frogs, are essential parts of ecosystems; tadpoles help remove algae from streams and adult frogs eat disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes and provide food for predators. As for how to tackle the problem, experts recommend three things: stop trading wild amphibians, protect their habitat and prevent the introduction of invasive species.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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