Climate change has already increased the spread and severity of a fatal disease that infects common frogs (Rana temporaria) in the UK, according to research involving the University of Plymouth.
Historic trends in mass-mortality events attributed to the disease (similar to Ebola in humans), caused by the Ranavirus, were found to match the pattern of increased temperatures recorded over recent decades.
Disease outbreaks are also predicted to become more severe, more widespread and occurring over a greater proportion of the year within the next few decades if carbon emissions continue at their current rate.
The research was led by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), UCL and Queen Mary University of London, working with Dr Robert Puschendorf, Lecturer in Conservation Biology at the University of Plymouth.
It used a three-pronged approach involving cell cultures, live models and historic data from the Met Office and Froglife’s Frog Mortality Project, with the research demonstrating that warm weather – where temperatures reach 16°C – dramatically increases the risk of Ranavirus causing a disease outbreak in common frogs.
The findings, published in Global Change Biology, help explain the seasonality of the disease, with incidence peaking during the hottest months of the summer, showing that climate change could see outbreaks becoming more frequent from April to October.
Disease outbreaks in the spring could result in the deaths of large numbers of tadpoles, which could have repercussions for population survival.
Up to now, Ranavirus disease has been largely restricted to England. But as average monthly temperatures increase to exceed 16°C in more areas over longer periods, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s high carbon-emission model, the disease is likely to spread across most of the UK in the next 50 years.