Surveys of reptiles in central Panama show the ripple effects of an ecological crisis. Fungus kills off frogs.Snakes then go hungry.
Tropical snakes are masters of disguise, skillfully camouflaged and capable of holding a position for hours without moving a muscle. This made for challenging work for herpetologist Karen Lips, now at the University of Maryland, who spent 13 years counting the snakes of El Copé in central Panama.
Lips had anticipated the arrival of chytrid, a fungus that has been killing off huge numbers of amphibians in Central America since the 1990s. The effects of the disease were well documented—a massive collapse of frog populations was coming. So Lips set up wildlife surveys to track tropical snake populations that prey on amphibians before and after the fungus swept through El Copé. The study, published today in the journal Science, found that it’s most likely that snake species fell as a result of the mass frog die-off.