Figure 1. Photos © Mark Blooi

Since the description and subsequent discovery of the origins of the novel fungal disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) the world’s amphibian conservationists have gone in full alert. Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) populations in the Netherlands and Belgium have crashed to the brink of local extinction due to the fungus. The latest study shows that most of Europe’s salamander species and some North American species die soon after exposure to the fungus (Martel et al. 2014). All the ingredients for a potential global ecological disaster are in place. We all know what a close relative of this new fungus, B. dendrobatidis, has caused world wide…

Scientists work hard to study this chytrid fungus and how it can be beaten before it spreads across Europe and hits the Americas. The first results of combating the fungus in the laboratory on wild fire salamanders has recently been published (Blooi et al. 2015). Blooi devised an experiment in the laboratory using heat (and not chemicals) to rid infected animals of the fungus. The optimal temperature for Bsal is 15 degrees Celsius. Salamanders inoculated with Bsal and kept at 15-20 degrees Celsius were soon colonized by the fungus and subsequently died. Animals infected at 15 degrees died quicker than animals kept at 20 degrees. However, infected salamanders that were kept at 25 degrees Celsius for 10 consecutive days were completely fungus free after this heat treatment. Lesions caused by the fungus totally vanished after this treatment (Figure 1). These results were validated by applying the same heat treatment to 30 wild and naturally infected fire salamanders from Belgium. Almost all 30 salamanders were fungus free after these 10 days.

These results are the first clues how to combat this nasty fungus. Heat treatment is more preferable to for example treatment with anti-fungal chemicals for microbes may acquire resistance for these substances. Also, heat treatments is low cost and easily applicable. This study shows the importance of temperature in disease dynamics. How it works in the wild is a subject for future study.

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Photo ©  Frank Pasmans

Want to read more about this study, check out this link: http://www.nature.com/srep/2015/150127/srep08037/full/srep08037.html

Citation: Blooi, M. et al. Treatment of urodelans based on temperature dependent infection dynamics of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. Sci. Rep. 5, 8037; DOI:10.1038/srep08037 (2015).

With many thanks to Mark Blooi for reviewing this blog!

By Tariq Stark

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