An aggressive fungal disease threatens to eradicate entire salamander and newt populations across Europe. In a joint letter directed to the European Commission, nature organizations and scientists urge to invest in monitoring, urgency plans and research. Furthermore measures to stop trade of infected salamanders and newts need to be taken.

The Asian fungal disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans literally eats away the skin of salamanders and newts. The disease first appeared in the Netherlands in 2010. Soon it became clear how disastrous the impact of this infection is: in a period of three years, 99,9 percent of the countries’ fire salamander population was wiped out. The Dutch government had to take drastic measures keeping some non-infected individuals in quarantine.

Meanwhile the disease has spread to Belgium and Germany. Furthermore it became clear that also other salamander and newt species die of the disease. The salamander killing infection has spread far away from the place where it was first detected, reaching as far as Duffel (Antwerp province).

The dangerous fungal disease spreads through footwear and also through through the trade of Asian animals. Since the first infections were documented, time is ticking to take proper actions.

Europe counts 40 salamander and newt species. Some are spread across the continent, others are rare and endemic to certain specific region (for example the Pyrenees or Alps and Mediterranean islands). If the disease reaches these vulnerable populations, it is a deathblow.

In their letter addressed to the European Commission, 33 nature organisations and scientists from all over Europe ask to take urgent measures. Their demand is to apply as quickly as possible a recommendation issued by the renowned committee of the Convention of Bern, a binding international legal instrument in the field of nature conservation, covering the natural heritage of the European continent.

  1. Support research into the disease and the infected animals. We have to know more about the disease, the way it spreads and how infected animals can be treated in order to stop it.
  2. Put limitations to the international trade of salamanders and newts, in order to avoid new outbreaks. Organise scientific screenings in animal trade.
  3. Start monitoring salamander and newt populations in the risk areas and support it with sufficient resources: close to outbreaks and in areas with endemic, vulnerable species (Pyrenees, Alps and Mediterranean islands).
  4. Develop as soon as possible emergency action plans which can provide a decisive answer in the case that the disease is advancing in the direction of vulnerable populations. Examples include the preventive catch and quarantine of the most vulnerable, endemic species.
  5. Work on an efficient security protocol for researchers and visitors to areas where sensitive salamanders species occur.
  6. Develop and implement awareness raising campaigns aimed at prevention, biosecurity and surveillance.

What can citizens do?

  1. When you visit forests or nature reserves, always clean and dry your shoes before going to another location. Give special attention to the mud that should be removed or completely dried. Pathogen spores don’t cope well with desiccation.
  2. If you find dead animals (excluding animals killed by road traffic), take pictures, then collect and freeze the animals separately. On each bag, write location and date. These animals are very important to scientific research. In Flanders, bring the animals to the closest vet. In Wallonia, contact rainne@natagora and we will put you in contact with the administration in charge of this service.

More information: www.natuurpunt.be/salamanderdisease

Photo: Salamandra salamandra © S.Pirotte/Natagora

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