One Green Health

The Threats, Challenges and Solutions

The One Green Health concept recognizes that the health of amphibians is intimately connected with the health of people and the environments we share.

The Amphibian Survival Alliance uses the One Green Health approach by working with researchers, ecologists, veterinarians and policy makers to monitor and control amphibian health threats. We do this by learning how diseases spread amongst amphibians, through their environment as well as through the global trade in wildlife and work with policy makers and those involved in the trade of amphibians to reduce risks and improve practices.

Working with cutting edge science and leaders in both public health and environmental policy we are bridging the gaps and creating a healthier environment for both humans and animals around the world.

Amphibian health threats have been on the global radar since the late 1980’s when massive enigmatic declines were observed throughout North and Central America and Australia. These declines were eventually linked to an emerging infectious disease known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Although we still have much to learn about amphibian diseases, there is evidence to suggest that as environments become degraded, these diseases are able to have a significant impact on the health of their hosts.

When amphibians are declining because of diseases it could mean that something greater is wrong with the environment. Perhaps the aquatic insects that feed on fungal pathogens are declining due to increase in water and air pollution; or maybe the ability of the amphibians’ immune system is compromised because of pesticides killing their natural and protective skin flora. Whatever the reason, we should all be paying greater attention to global amphibian declines because they are warning us that something is changing in our environment. And that isn’t good for us in the long run.

One of the major challenges we have in controlling amphibian diseases is that we don’t always know what we are looking for. Right now, there are three major diseases that amphibian conservationists are most worried about:

Ranavirus first described in 1965
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) first described in 1999
Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) first described in 2013

Bsal is a perfect example of the challenges we face in saving amphibians around the world. Only identified in 2013, this “new” fungal pathogen has wiped out or significantly reduced a number of salamander populations in Northern Europe and has now also been detected in the pet trade in the UK. Until these die-offs were observed and the test run to identify the cause, we didn’t even know we should be looking for Bsal.

It is likely that Bsal, originally from Asia, is moving around the world via the wildlife and pet trade. The World Customs Organization (WCO) unfortunately no longer have the tools for monitoring the global trade in amphibians since removing amphibians from the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System of HS (the World Customs Organization’s international customs coding system). This now means we have almost no information on what amphibians are being shipped around the world. When an outbreak like Bsal occurs we then have to struggle to connect the dots. The Alliance is currently working with a number of partners around the world to get amphibians back onto the HS. But this is just part of the story.

Many countries have measures in place to deal with human/wildlife or wildlife/livestock diseases however very few, if any, have policies in place that actually prevent the movement of wildlife/wildlife diseases. So despite the massive potential impact of wildlife diseases being spread around the world and significantly impacting local wildlife, most governments just aren’t set up to deal with this threat. This is another critical area that the Alliance is working to address.

Knowing what is moving around the world and having the policy in place to limit the movement of diseases are the vital first steps in helping to protect amphibians. However we also need to work out how to treat infected animals. Working with scientists around the world, the Alliance and our partners are testing a range of theories to mitigate these diseases. Perhaps the most promising mitigation technique is the use of probiotics to augment the amphibians natural skin bacteria. Many people use probiotics to help boost their immune system and this is essentially what we are doing for the amphibians. By spreading naturally occurring bacteria on the amphibians we are helping give their immune system the boost it needs to fight off fungal pathogens like Bd and Bsal. If we can get this to work in the field then it might help to prevent, or at least slow, the declines we have seen in places like Central America and Australia.

The One Green Health concept is not a new concept but it is becoming increasingly important as a variety of factors such as habitat destruction and global trade continue to impact the interactions between amphibians, humans and the planet we share. By collaborating with human health professionals, veterinarians, trade and policy officials and conservation organizations alike, the Alliance is working to achieve optimal health outcomes for both humans and amphibians alike. Being able to effectively identify and deal with wildlife diseases is becoming increasingly important in our connected world, ignoring the gaps is no longer an issue if we want to save species, habitats and ecosystems that they support.

Putting the plan into action

The Amphibian Survival Alliance is an alliance of action and turn the ACAP priorities into real action for amphibians. Here are some of our latest projects:

Current Priority Actions
  • Develop fund for grants to high caliber doctoral students filling critical research gaps. Identify potential donors for a fund and develop concept note for doctoral grants fund.
  • Invite and publish articles by Bsal and BNV researchers on the urgency of a global sampling effort with specific recommendations.
  • Support academic partners to develop a website like http://www.bd-maps.net for Bsaland ranavirus and promote it using ASA communications channels including ASA-AmphibiaWeb Science Zone.
  • Identify priority areas and species for surveys of infectious disease prevalence
  • Facilitate collaborations between researchers, local and international universities, protected area managers and other Alliance members to undertake disease and population monitoring in priority areas.
  • Support a citizen science project that encourages pet owners to swab their pet amphibians for Bsal.
  • Identify labs that analyze swabs for Bd/Bsal.
  • Convene experts to identify priority areas and species for surveys of amphibian defences.
  • Facilitate collaborations between researchers, protected area managers, zoos and other captive breeding facilities, and other Alliance members to undertake disease and population monitoring in priority areas.
  • Conduct Bsal susceptibility experiments on priority species that represent a wide taxonomic range to determine the extent of the threat.
  • Identify high-priority candidate species for probiotic trials from ecosystems not yet represented in probiotics research.
  • Support local graduate students and protected area managers to implement trials..
  • Convene an expert working group/workshop to identify barriers to the reintroduction of surplus captive amphibians and make recommendations.
  • Co-author a policy piece for a high profile journal with the recommendations from this working group.
  • Convene a meeting with experts to explore the state of the art and encourage additional brainstorming and collaboration. Encourage research with an ASA seed grant category for this topic.
  • Consider a web-based interactive solution with relevant tabs such as Bd/Bsal maps, funding opportunities, mitigation research updates and project plans for brainstorming by the larger group.
  • Undertake the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas for Amphibians, starting in regions of ongoing decline, and ensure that information on threats from infectious disease is incorporated into the documentation.
  • Facilitate input of disease experts into the existing priority-setting processes of AArk, AZA and other institutions involved in amphibian rescues.
  • Develop an emergency fund for highly threatened species where no other funding exists.
  • Convene meeting to brainstorm outside the box conservation strategies for the large number of species on the brink of extinction.
  • Raise public awareness about amphibian diseases by expand and strengthen social media campaigns to reach a broader audience.
  • Raise public awareness about amphibian diseases by engage education graduate students to develop curriculum module at various grade levels.
  • Work with ASA partners to convince regulatory authorities of relevant countries to implement a moratorium on importation of salamanders until a testing program for Bsal is in place.
  • Work with Associations and major importers and stores in the US to encourage testing, treatment, and disease risk minimization.
  • Evaluate potential threats of disease spread into novel environments via ecotourism and communicate data to government agencies to educate the public and promote appropriate regulations.
  • Raise awareness of the lack of conservation evidence on pollution-related threat mitigation and encourage publication of these studies through online communication channels and publications.
  • Target persistent pesticides (e.g., atrazine) and contaminants (e.g., Hg or DDT).
  • Target pesticides/contaminants that are known to be endocrine disruptors.
  • Promote and advocate for the testing of amphibians as part of routine toxicological screening.
  • Determine adequate models and standards for standard toxicity tests.
  • Support international group investigating the ‘agrochemical updraft hypothesis’ in the tropics as a possible explanation to enigmatic extinctions in high elevations.
  • Create a prioritized list of target species for genome sequencing.
  • Engage six sequencing and bioinformatics Partners.
  • Support funding initiatives, formation and interactions of research consortia aimed at amphibian genome sequencing, assembly and annotation as well as developing and using these molecular tools and approaches.
  • Identify a sustainable informatics structure for providing public access to genome information.
  • Create prioritized list of species and areas for tissue collection and cryopreservation (determine types of tissue collected: somatic, reproductive, blood, etc.)
  • Support funding of initiatives, formation and interactions of research consortia.
  • Construct a list of research topics which urgently need to be addressed and actively promote participation within educational systems worldwide.
  • Development of technical manuals, protocols, hands on training and public awareness campaigns for amphibian tissue acquisition and storage in four conservation specific countries.
  • Develop a fund to support emergency pathogen surveillance in traded amphibians.
  • Identify species that warrant targeted disease surveillance to evaluate the presence of specific emerging pathogens in traded amphibians.
  • Identify amphibian species previously subject to high trade volumes that were subsequently governed by specific trade quotas and obtain recent field population data.
  • Identify amphibian species commonly traded in high volumes as “bred in captivity”.
  • Identify species that are more likely to be wild-harvested and monitor trade, identify if these species life histories are conducive to commercial-scale breeding
  • Identify and contact taxonomic experts on species listed in CITES and work to produce a list of potential target species. Assess whether there are particular areas of their distribution that may contain forms which could be most vulnerable to trade (via points of origin collections) and may be at risk of extirpation.
  • Identify regions where amphibian disease events have caused population decline, but commercial harvest may be occurring.
  • Convene a meeting with international amphibian experts to identify species that may warrant proposal for CITES listing at the next CoP.
  • Implement immediate policy level actions to reduce the potential risk of Bsal entering North America.
  • Develop outreach material for amphibian traders and buyers, as well as amphibian collectors.
    Work with responsible and legitimate amphibian breeders to disseminate awareness-raising materials related to biosecurity, ethical sourcing of amphibians and conservation priorities.
  • Engage in discussion with World Customs Organization to create codes specific to amphibians.
  • Engage in discussions with USFWS regarding the need for policies that reduce the threat of pathogen introduction via the international amphibian trade.
  • Identify and enlist five strategic partners that can act as mediators between the Alliance and decision-makers.
Resources
An article published in PLOS Pathogens, co-authored by the Amphibian Survival Alliance and partners, summarizes the swift action the conservation community has already taken to prevent the spread of Bsal in North America and lays out plans to respond swiftly if it does arrive. Read more
In March, two teams of amphibian and trade specialists from academia, government, and NGOs gathered at parallel workshops in Singapore and Washington, DC to discuss international amphibian trade. Starting with a list of species generated from the IUCN Red List, CITES trade database, and input from the IUCN SSC Amphibian SG, they identified species most at risk from trade, habitat loss, or due to disease. They then identified regulatory conservation actions for priority species or entire taxa. Learn more
Five California amphibian experts warn that a recently discovered fungus already devastating salamanders in Europe could imperil American salamanders, and urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately halt salamander imports until there is a plan to detect and prevent the spread of the fungus. Learn more
HERE is a list of laboratories around the world that perform a variety of diagnostic tests for amphibian diseases.
Amphibians are traded around the world however very little data exists on this trade. Working in collaborations with partners around the world we are hoping to host annual datasets for public use. These datasets will be collated from national records such as the LEMIS dataset maintained by USFWS. Learn more
To address the global spread of Bd it is crucial that a dedicated system is available to collect, map and model the prevalence of infection to aid control measures directed against Bd. The overarching aim of Bd-Maps is to provide a community-focussed resource. All data is presented in a geographical context facilitating identification of areas of potential spread and temporal analysis allows previous spread to be modelled and used to identify areas of concern. Such analyses will be directed towards policy makers, resource managers, the general public and the scientific community. All the data on the public site will be downloadable, allowing further analysis and synthesis by interested parties. VisitBd-Maps
https://youtu.be/nTRaWECVfMM

The Global Ranavirus Reporting System (GRRS) is an open-source web platform designed for the storage, sharing, and visualization of global ranavirus surveillance data, including diagnostics and genetic isolate differences.  The portal is designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of users inclusive of natural resource managers and researchers. Ranavirus scientists in the field or the lab will be able to upload datasets in multiple formats to the system, where they will be stored for easy download and analysis. GRRS users have fine-grained access controls to protect and share their uploaded datasets, and examine datasets in views appropriate to their content (e.g., tables, maps, and charts). Visit the GGRS

A new salamander disease is spreading around the world and your help is needed to find out where it’s going. If you see a dead salamander anywhere, please take a photo and upload it to the “Saving Salamanders with Citizen Science” project. The faster we can detect its arrival in a new region, the greater our chances to protect salamanders from disease, decline, and extinction. Submit observations here
Researchers from the University of Tennessee’s Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries Department are investigating ranavirus and chytrid fungus prevalence in amphibians found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

https://youtu.be/kNKbNc9tjpQ

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