Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a small conference on one of the projects studying the role of skin bacteria communities in preventing chytrid infection in Panama. Although I won’t go into all of the details of the many topics that were discussed, I would like to hit two of the most interesting things that I learned. Firstly, I was very pleased to hear from one of the post-doctoral researchers in Dr. Belden’s lab, Dr. Myra Hughey, that there is in fact still a small area of Panama that is chytrid free. There is also a chance that the islands in Panama, like Bocas del Toro, may also still be free of chytrid. This allows for the possibility of interesting comparisons of frog and skin bacterial community between areas where Bd is present and where it is absent. Unfortunately, these sites are not likely to remain chytrid free indefinitely, since chytrid is thought to be spreading both from the west to east across Panama and, more surprisingly, upwards from Colombia. It is essential, therefore, that these places remain isolated and protected from the fungus through sanitation of field equipment and personnel.
From the metabolite work, there were also some very interesting preliminary trends. Thus far, Atelopus certus, one of the frogs more heavily impacted by the chytrid fungus, appears to have fewer metabolites. The red-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) may have more metabolites, which could indicate that either the bacteria on their skin provide protection through metabolite production, or the frogs themselves are producing more metabolites. Although no conclusions can be drawn at this point, all of this information is very intriguing and has got me excited for my own project in Panama this upcoming summer. I have not yet decided what I will be doing, but it is likely to involve a good amount of field work catching and swabbing frogs. There will likely be many interesting stories for me to tell while working in Panama, and if I have good internet connection, I will be sure to keep the blog updated. Until then, it is back to the lab for the semester.