Is there anything more soul-crushing than the image of The Rat-Pack, or any other crooner from the golden age of singers performing to an empty concert hall? Sinatra, baring his soul, with nothing but his echo reverberating off the bare walls in reply. The power of the artistry on display becomes heightened, as the emotional content of the lyrics is starkly juxtaposed with the futility of the performance. And perhaps there is an additional sullen reminder of the heights of the past.
In music this happens at venues the world over, as popular tastes change and musical styles go in and out of vogue; in frogs this happens at wetlands across the globe as audiences are decimated by a deadly fungal pathogen, and lonely males are left to lament into the void. The now infamous Chytrid fungus has wreaked havoc across all continents except Antarctica, and continues to shows no signs of curtailing its cataclysmic rise. Chytrid originated in Asia, and was transported across the globe most likely via the pet and commercial trades of amphibians. Affecting the majority of the 6000 frog species on earth, Chytrid is one of the most generalist diseases known to man. The very trait that defines amphibians is there downfall; porous skin provides no barrier to the fungal spores, and individuals are slowly suffocated as the disease enshrouds their bodies. Populations’ crash, and the once-heard lively midnight choruses become lonely plaintiff cries.
Even if the pathogen does not get every last frog, populations will be left in tatters, teetering on the brink of collapse. This phenomena, the heightened risk of extinction at low numbers, is referred to as the ‘small population paradigm’. A multitude of reasons, struggling to find mates, low genetic diversity, and natural catastrophes, help to stack the odds against the recovery of small populations even if the original threat (Chytrid in our case) is eradicated. Eventually every singer gives up the ghost, entire species blink out, and both the songs and admiring masses are consigned to the annals of history. In the frog world, final curtains have fallen at least 200 times in our lifetime, likely considerably more. Potential solutions do not come easy, and I offer none. I know for certain however that without action, a silent night will leave us mourning.