Posted by William Nunnelley on 2014-04-16

By Cassady Weldon

More than 30 percent of the world's approximately 7,000 species of amphibians are either recently extinct or in catastrophic decline, Zoo Atlanta herpetological research director Joseph Mendelson said at Samford University April 15.

"The scope and scale of what is happening to amphibians is completely beyond our comprehension," said Dr. Mendelson at a Samford Earth Day program. "These numbers qualify as a mass extinction event."

The cause of the mass extinction is an emerging infectious disease caused by the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus. 

"We didn't know this existed until 1988," said Mendelson. "This is the first pathogen known to directly cause extinction. We have never seen that before."

While all 7000+ species of amphibians are likely susceptible, they are differentially tolerant, he said. Some may come in contact with the pathogen and fight it off, while others are completely wiped out.

A nationally respected expert in his field, Mendelson is responsible for the naming of more than 30 new amphibian and reptile species.  In 2012, Telmatobius mendelsoni, a previously undescribed species of frog native to the Peruvian Andes in South America, was named in his honor.

Mendelson said he had no intention of becoming a conservation biologist, but says he "fell into it." He began as a taxonomist, but realized that many of the amphibians that he was discovering and naming were already extinct.

There is no easy way to combat the pathogen in the wild, he said.  "The history of conservation has been to control humans and nature will recover, but in regard to emerging infectious disease, we have no idea what to do."

While there is not yet a specific solution to the amphibian extinction, Mendelson suggests that the route may be tolerance. He believes there is much to learn from the amphibians that are still alive, rather than implementing an artificial resistance to the fungus in the wild.


Cassady Weldon is a senior journalism and mass communication major and student writer for the Samford Office of Marketing and Communication.




Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 37th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 97th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,758 students from 48 states and 22 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.