DEAR READERS: Reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded poikilotherms, which means they have little ability to cope with sudden changes in temperature and humidity. We humans and other warm-blooded homeothermic animals can cope better with these changes. Now, due to changes in climate and environment, stressed poikilotherms are being decimated by fungal infections that are indicative of their impaired immune systems.
Matthew Allender, a veterinarian and wildlife epidemiologist at the University of Illinois and Chicago Zoological Society, and his colleagues have identified the fungus, O. ophiodiicola, in 25 snake species across 19 U.S. states and Canadian territories.
From National Geographic's article, "A fatal fungal disease is spreading among North America's snakes":
"The sometimes-fatal affliction now has a common name: snake fungal disease. (The fungus poses no threat to humans.)
"'I think it's everywhere,' says Allender, who has detected the snake fungus in locales as far-ranging as the western U.S. and Puerto Rico. Though the fungus may not infect every snake species, 'we're finding it in remote places.'"
Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the European fungus likely behind the devastating white-nose syndrome in bats, is yet another indicator of the impact of climate change and the overuse of insecticides. These chemicals poison exposed insects, decimating insect populations so the bats starve -- all factors that impair bats' immune systems and resistance to fungal and other diseases.
The Denver Zoo is breeding endangered boreal toads for a population restoration project with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department. A combination of habitat loss and chytrid fungal infections threaten the native species' survival, and project leaders hope to release approximately 20,000 tadpoles in the state next year. (Full story: KMGH-TV, Denver, 12/9)
When we lose species, ecosystems become dysfunctional and noxious, and invasive species take hold. From cane toads in Florida to disease-transmitting mosquitoes everywhere, invasive species pose a threat to public health, and many become pests that threaten agriculture and food security. Taking steps to prevent further biodiversity loss and stem this extinction of species calls for international government collaboration and science-based responsible planetary stewardship.
DEAR DR. FOX: Regarding the planetary crises that too few are speaking about and reacting to, I feel like the overwhelming majority of people who do speak out are missing the real problem. It's pretty obvious to me that the biggest issue to be faced is that the planet is being overwhelmed by too many ignorant people. This includes me.
I don't know how we can rectify the current situation: a constantly increasing population of energy-using, food-eating, tree-clearing, methane-producing humans all just looking for the easiest, most convenient way to get through the day and improve their lifestyle. I'm right there with them! But we desperately need to face the fact that we have outlived our usefulness to the planet.
This is not new. We have been reducing forest area to grow crops and meat-producing herds, eliminating other animal species, burning trees and emitting methane gases for a long time. We are just now becoming aware of the damage we have been doing -- damage that will make life much more difficult for our offspring in the decades to come. Perhaps related to all this, my 47-year-old daughter has elected not to have children. I wish I had the answers. -- E.B., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR E.B.: Your daughter is not alone in deciding not to reproduce. This will have economic consequences in some countries, as China now fears with its declining birth rate. But this is the best decision for the planet, though it is generally opposed for various political, religious and economic reasons. A Pew Research Center survey finds that more people in the U.S. are not having children. Considering the millions of displaced and able-bodied refugees seeking sanctuary in the U.S. and Europe, there should be no significant labor shortages in the future.
You are not alone in feeling despair facing the clear evidence of climate change and a planet whose metabolism we have accelerated with destructive consequences. Many find some comfort in "going green" politically and becoming vegan or vegetarian to reduce their carbon footprint. There is much we can do as consumers and voting citizens to ameliorate -- but not reverse -- the ecological damage our species has caused worldwide.
LEPTOSPIROSIS WARNING FOR DOG OWNERS
Leptospirosis outbreaks in the Los Angeles and New York City areas have veterinarians suggesting dog owners consider getting their pups vaccinated against the illness, especially if they are likely to be in contact with other dogs at dog parks, indoor play areas or boarding facilities. Veterinarian Nahvid Etedali says the outbreak in New York is likely due to two factors: higher rainfall and growing rat populations. This disease can be fatal to humans as well as to dogs. (Full story: The Hollywood Reporter, 12/14)
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