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Frog-Killing Fungus Meets Its Match in Hidden World of Tiny Predators

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As I reported in a feature story in Scientific American last December , some fungi have been behaving badly of late, attacking bats, plants, amphibians, reptiles, and people with gusto, driving many species to extinction and others to the brink. It’s all quite depressing. But today in Scientific American online I report some good news: we may have allies in our efforts to fight at least one of these rampaging fungi. Tiny, armed, hungry allies.

Dirk Schmeller, Adeline Loyau, Frank Pasmans, Mark Blooi, and their colleagues have discovered that, at least in the alpine lakes of the Pyrenees between France and Spain, tiny predatory microbes can put the disease-causing fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, soundly in its place. They do this because the fungus has relatives in the lake that look and act similarly, and these fungi make up a natural part of these microbes’ diets. These native microscopic fungi dine on detritus, not frogs. But to micropredatores, the spores of Bd look just like their regular breakfasts, and are evidently just as tasty.

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