Photo Above: Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) © Tariq Stark[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][text_output]

The novel chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (hereafter Bsal) that has been appropriately been dubbed “the eater of salamanders” has been detected in Germany for the first time. Sabino-Pinto (et al., 2015) report this in the scientific herpetological journal Amphibia – Reptilia a few days ago.

This highly pathogenic fungus is likely endemic to South East Asia and its host range seems to be restricted to Caudates (salamanders and newts – Martel et al., 2014). Bsal is the causative agent of amphibian chytridiomycosis in newts and salamanders and has a very high mortality rate (Martel et al., 2013). Bsal has been responsible for the collapse of all fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) populations in the Netherlands (Spitzen – van der Sluijs et al., 2013). In the Netherlands Bsal has likely been introduced into wild fire salamanders populations via the pet trade in Asian salamanders (Martel et al., 2014). In Belgium, Bsal also caused mortalities in both fire salamanders and alpine newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) in several locations across the country. In the United Kingdom fire salamanders in a captive population also suffered mass mortalities (Cunningham et al., 2015).

Germany will be the fourth country where Bsal is detected. Like in the UK a captive population has been stricken. A private keeper, specialized in Salamandra species for over thirty years, held approximately 200 individuals divided among four distinct Salamandra species in his collection. The four species are Salamandra algira from North Africa, S. corsica from the Island of Corsica, S. infraimmaculata from the Near East and S. salamandra and its twelve sub species which can be found throughout large parts of Europe (from Portugal to the Ukraine).

Sporadic mortality events happened in the fall of 2014 in the collection of the German Salamandra keeper but mass mortality, where more than 50% of all individuals among all four Salamandra species were killed, happened in spring 2015. Alarmed by the deaths and possible symptoms of Bsal the keeper reached out to scientist specialized in amphibian diseases and a plan was set in to motion. Non invasive skin swabs, skin samples from deceased animals but also liver and kidney samples were collected and analysed in three specialized labs (in Germany and Belgium). Besides testing for Bsal the samples were also tested for the classic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), Ranavirus and Chlamydiaceae to confirm or exclude the involvement of other pathogens. No other pathogens than Bsal were detected and Bsal was the clear driver of the mortality events.

Although this has been a case of mass mortality caused by Bsal in captivity it is very alarming indeed! This study shows that four Salamandra species and nine (but likely all) of the subspecies of S. salamandra are highly susceptible to this disease. Although the exact effects of Bsal introduction in natural populations of these species can’t be ascertained the authors hypothesize that if Bsal is introduced it can lead to the collapse of all these populations.

Even though Bsal was likely introduced via the pet trade the authors stress that responsible keepers and breeders of salamanders have an important role in detecting and containing the fungus. Strict bio safety measures for professional and private keepers alike should be set in place to prevent the fungus to enter wild populations. Early detection of disease by keepers is of the utmost importance to detect, contain and mitigate dangerous pathogens like Bsal. Herpetological societies have a big role to play in educating their members in these protocols.

Also, this study shows that not only Asian salamanders need to be screened for Bsal but also species originating from other regions like Europe. Likely Bsal is present in more captive populations and strict hygiene protocols must be adhered.

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By Tariq Stark[/text_output][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″]

[text_output]Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) © Tariq Stark[/text_output][text_output]Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) © Tariq Stark[/text_output][text_output]References:

Cunningham, A. A., Beckmann, K., Perkins, M., Fitspatrick, L., Cromie, R., Redbond, J., O’Brien, M. F., Ghosh, P., Shelton, J., Fisher, M., C. (2015). Emerging diseases in UK amphibians. Veterinary Record176, 468.

Martel, A., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, A., Blooi, M., Bert, W., Ducatelle, R., Fisher, M. C., Woeltjes, A., Bosman, W., Chiers, K., Bossuyt, F. & Pasmans, F. (2013). Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans sp. nov. causes lethal chytridiomycosis in amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(38), 15325-15329.

Martel, A., Blooi, M., Adriaensen, C., Van Rooij, P., Beukema, W., Fisher, M. C., Farrer, R. A., Schmidt, B. R., Tobler, U., Goka, K., Lips, K.R., Muletz, C., Zamudio, K. R., Bosch, J. Lötters, S., Wombwell, E., Garner, T. W. J., Cunningham, A. A., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, A., Salvidio, S., Ducatelle, R., Nishikawa, K., Nguyen, T. T., Kolby, J. E., Van Bocxlaer, I., Bossuyt, F. & Pasmans, F. (2014). Recent introduction of a chytrid fungus endangers Western Palearctic salamanders. Science346(6209), 630-631.

Sabino-Pinto, J.S., Bletz, M., Hendrix, R., Bina Perl, R. G., Martel, A., Pasmans, F., Lötters, S., Mutschmann, F., Schmeller, D.S., Schmidt, B. R., Veith, M., Wagner, N., Vences, M., Steinfartz, S. (2015). First detection of the emerging fungal pathogen in Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in Germany. Amphibia-Reptilia. DOI:10.1163/15685381-00003008

Spitzen – van der Sluijs, A., Spikmans, F., Bosman, W., de Zeeuw, M., Goverse, E., Kik, M., Pasmans, F., Martel., A. (2013): Rapid enigmatic decline drives the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) to the edge of extinction in the Netherlands. Amphibia-Reptilia  34, 233-239.[/text_output][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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