The mission of RAVON (Reptile, Amphibian and Fish Conservation the Netherlands) is to increase the number of sustainable populations of amphibians, reptiles and freshwater fish in the Netherlands. Because staff alone cannot do this, they closely collaborate with nearly 2,000 volunteers who are their ears and eyes in the field.

We have seen the beginning of the devastating effects of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans; the ‘novel’ chytrid fungus. This fungus is capable of wiping out the entire clade of salamanders and newts in Europe and the USA.

Annemarieke Spitzen is a project manager at RAVON, a PhD student at Ghent University (Belgium) and is also working on the effects of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) on amphibian population dynamics. At this moment she is working with Fire salamander along with an enthusiastic team of researchers within RAVON and from Ghent University.

Amphibians the world over are facing probably the world’s most serious extinction crisis. What are your thoughts on the future prospects for amphibian conservation and preventing further extinctions?

For a long time amphibian diseases were not a key topic when the conservation of amphibians was discussed. This changed completely with the discovery of a.o. chytridiomycosis, ranavirosis, Chlamydiales etc. The world has changed, and not for the best. So, the future’s looking pretty grim for the world’s amphibians, and the key to their survival is that we (conservationists, scientists, governments and the general public) all work together, share ideas and results, and work towards safeguarding the entire clade.

It is going to be a tough job to prevent B. salamandrivorans from spreading to the US and the UK, and infecting more salamander and newt populations. In this, governments, NGO’s and scientists will have to join forces to make sure that what is needed will be done.

What do you think are some of the most promising developments in the fight to prevent further amphibian population declines?

I am quite thrilled in the enormous potential of the environmental DNA technique (www.environmental-dna.com; in English). Detecting small fragments of DNA left by cryptic species makes it possible to (re)discover small and isolated populations. Besides this, one of the very strong points of RAVON is that we seek close collaboration with national and international institutions and that we have a large group of volunteers sharing their knowledge and information, and actively collect scientific data. Because of our large network we are able to detect problems at an early stage.

Why did you join the Alliance and what are you doing to help protect amphibians? 

RAVON has joined the Alliance because we believe in the strength of collaboration. We have an awful lot of experience with citizen science, we have an extensive database of valuable data on amphibians and we are keen in working with colleagues from all over the world in order to solve the omnipresent problems regarding amphibian conservation.

What can the average person, as well as the private sector, do in order to tangibly and actively participate in amphibian conservation?

Speaking from my own work on amphibian diseases, the four most important things people can do to help amphibians is to: Monitor, Register, Notify and Disinfect.

For good knowledge on the effects of novel diseases on amphibian populations it is crucial to know what was (which species, how many) BEFORE the outbreak, WHEN did the disease arrive and HOW is it developing (how many individuals die, which life stages are susceptible etc.). This data is essential, and it can only be collected by the eyes and ears of lots of people. Collecting this information can be done by monitoring a fixed set of ponds, or simply by closely observing your own garden pond. We know from ranavirus infections in small garden ponds, so data collection doesn’t have to be intense work.

Besides observing any changes (or none), registering this information is very important. We all know how difficult it can be to memorize what you ate last Tuesday, so memorizing how many common newts you had in your pond two years ago is simply undoable. People can upload their data on the website telmee.nl (which is not only available in Dutch, but in many other languages and it has extensive species lists).

In the case something alarming occurs, it is important to notify the organisation working on the topic so that they can come and help you collecting any dead specimens and advice you on further monitoring.

Finally, when doing any work in the field – in a moist environment- please make sure you disinfect your field material so that you prevent the spread of ranaviruses or chytrid fungi, or other pathogens, over large distances in a short time frame.
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