Thursday, 22 September 2022

Malevolent Designer News - Creationism's Divine Malevolence is Killing the Frogs That Help Protect Us from Malaria

Malaria Spike Linked to Amphibian Die-Off | UC Davis
Panamanian golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, a victim of the fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.
On the face of it, there is no connection between frogs and malaria, but scientists have discovered a correlation between the decline of frogs due to the fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, and a spike in malaria cases in parts of Latin America, particularly in Costa Rica and Panama.

Readers may remember how I described the world-wide devastation of amphibian populations with the fungus, B. dendrobatidis (Bd), and how a team of researchers from the University of California at Davis had reported a link between these deaths and an increase in malaria, probably due to this removal from the ecosystem of major predators on mosquitos.

To be a Creationists is to believe this fungus, the effects it is having on global amphibian populations and the knock-on effects this is having on the ecosystem and human health, is the intended outcome of a supernatural intelligent [sic] designer, with this obviously malevolent intent. I also write about this fungus in my popular, illustrated book, The malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good, as an example of what can only be described as malevolent intent, if the modification to this otherwise harmless soil fungus to turn it against the world's amphibians, really was the work of Creationists' putative intelligent [sic] designer, as their dogma obliges them to believe. The mystery, as ever, is why Creationists would prefer us to see their favourite god as a malevolent monster, forever scheming to increase the amount of suffering in the world, rather than ascribe these things to a natural process with no mind or morality involved.

The same UC Davis team has now reported a close correlation between the major die-off of amphibians in Costa Rica and Panama with a spike in malaria cases in the region. At the spike’s peak, up to 1 person per 1,000 annually contracted malaria that normally would not have had the amphibian die-off not occurred, the study found.

According to the UC Davis news release:

Stable ecosystems underpin all sorts of aspects of human well-being, including regulating processes important for disease prevention and health. If we allow massive ecosystem disruptions to happen, it can substantially impact human health in ways that are difficult to predict ahead of time and hard to control once they’re underway.

Professor Michael Springborn, lead author
Department of Environmental Science and Policy
UC Davis, Davis, California, USA
Dozens of species of frogs, salamanders and other amphibians quietly disappeared from parts of Latin America in the 1980s and 2000s, with little notice from humans, outside of a small group of ecologists. Yet the amphibian decline had direct health consequences for people, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, links an amphibian die-off in Costa Rica and Panama with a spike in malaria cases in the region. At the spike’s peak, up to 1 person per 1,000 annually contracted malaria that normally would not have had the amphibian die-off not occurred, the study found.

Malaria spikes in Costa Rica and Panama
Figure 1 from the UC Davis study shows the spike in annual total malaria cases from 1976-2016 for Costa Rica and Panama.

A natural experiment

From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, a deadly fungal pathogen called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or “Bd,” traveled across Costa Rica, devastating amphibian populations. This amphibian chytrid fungus continued its path eastward across Panama through the 2000s. Globally, the pathogen led to the extinction of at least 90 amphibian species, and to the decline of at least 500 additional species.

Shortly after the mass die-off of amphibians in Costa Rica and Panama, both countries experienced a spike in malaria cases.

Some frogs, salamanders and other amphibians eat hundreds of mosquito eggs each day. Mosquitoes are a vector for malaria. Scientists wondered, could the crash in amphibians have influenced the rise in malaria cases?

Microscopic view of skin of frog infected with the fungus
A microscopic view of skin from a dead frog collected during the die-off at El Cope, Panama in 2004. The round cells are the fungal pathogen Bd. The grey-green irregular cells are frog skin. Notice there are more fungal cells than frogs cells.

Forrest Brem, University of Memphis
Chiriqui harlequin frog
The Chiriqui harlequin frog is among the many species of amphibians that disappeared from the Talamanca highlands of Costa Rica and Panama following the arrival of Bd, a fungal pathogen.

Marcos Guerra/Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

We’ve known for a while that complex interactions exist between ecosystems and human health, but measuring these interactions is still incredibly hard. We got there by merging tools and data that don’t usually go together. I didn’t know what herpetologists studied before collaborating with one!

Joakim Weill, co-author
Ph.D. candidate (when the study was conducted)
UC Davis, Davis, California, USA
To find out, the researchers combined their knowledge of amphibian ecology, newly digitized public health record data, and data analysis methods developed by economists to leverage this natural experiment.

The results show a clear connection between the time and location of the spread of the fungal pathogen and the time and location of increases in malaria cases. The scientists note that while they cannot fully rule out another confounding factor, they found no evidence of other variables that could both drive malaria and follow the same pattern of die-offs.
Map showing spread of the fungus
Figure 2 from the study shows the date of the pathogen-driven amphibian decline across Costa Rica and Panama. Colored shading indicates the earliest date of decline at the county level.

Tree cover loss was also associated with an increase in malaria cases, but not nearly to the same extent as the loss of amphibians. Typical levels of tree canopy loss increase annual malaria cases by up to 0.12 cases per 1,000 people, compared to 1 in 1,000 for the amphibian die-off.

Trade threats

The costs of putting those protective measures in place are immediate and evident, but the long-term benefits of avoiding ecosystem disruptions like this one are harder to assess but potentially massive, as this paper shows.

Professor Springborn
.Researchers were motivated to conduct the study by concerns about the future spread of similar diseases through international wildlife trade. For instance, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or “Bsal,” similarly threatens to invade ecosystems through global trade markets.

Springborn said measures that could help prevent the spread of pathogens to wildlife include updating trade regulations to better target species that host such diseases, as our knowledge of threats evolve.

Copyright: © 2022 The authors.
Published by IOP Publishing. Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
In the abstract to their open access paper, the UC Davis team say:

Biodiversity in ecosystems plays an important role in supporting human welfare, including regulating the transmission of infectious diseases. Many of these services are not fully-appreciated due to complex environmental dynamics and lack of baseline data. Multicontinental amphibian decline due to the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) provides a stark example. Even though amphibians are known to affect natural food webs—including mosquitoes that transmit human diseases—the human health impacts connected to their massive decline have received little attention. Here we leverage a unique ensemble of ecological surveys, satellite data, and newly digitized public health records to show an empirical link between a wave of Bd-driven collapse of amphibians in Costa Rica and Panama and increased human malaria incidence. Subsequent to the estimated date of Bd-driven amphibian decline in each 'county' (canton or distrito), we find that malaria cases are significantly elevated for several years. For the six year peak of the estimated effect, the annual expected county-level increase in malaria ranges from 0.76 to 1.1 additional cases per 1000 population. This is a substantial increase given that cases country-wide per 1000 population peaked during the timeframe of our study at approximately 1.5 for Costa Rica and 1.1 for Panama. This previously unidentified impact of biodiversity loss illustrates the often hidden human welfare costs of conservation failures. These findings also show the importance of mitigating international trade-driven spread of similar emergent pathogens like Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

Springborn, Michael R; Weill, Joakim A; Lips, Karen R; Ibáñez, Roberto; Ghosh, Aniruddha
Amphibian collapses increased malaria incidence in Central America
Environmental Research Letters 2022 17(10); 104012. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac8e1d

Copyright: © 2022 The authors.
Published by IOP Publishing. Open access
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)
Perhaps one day we will find a Creationist with the courage of their conviction enough to explain why they prefer us to see their creator god, not as an omnibenevolent god who wishes to minimise the suffering of its creation, but as a scheming, hate-filled malevolent monster seeking to increase it by any means possible, rather than have people accepting the scientific explanation for the evolution of pathogens and the effects they have on ecosystems.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. W Fitz has lost your email address. Would you please email .


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