By now most of you will have read the highly anticipated paper by Dr. An Martel from Ghent University in Belgium and her colleagues that reports on the new species of chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) which is now threatening salamander species around the world.[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][text_output]

This recently discovered chytrid is lethal to salamanders such as Fire salamanders in Europe. Originating in Asia where it co-exists with local salamander species, this fungus was probably accidentally introduced by humans into Europe.

North America has the most biodiverse community of salamanders in the world and is home to many of the world’s salamanders, including the diverse group of lungless salamanders that are abundant in the Appalachian Mountains, where they evolved and diversified. The biomass of terrestrial salamander in North American forests is huge and can equal or exceed the biomass of all the small mammal species. Thus, salamanders play a very important role in the ecosystem.  Martel et al. report that the two tested members of this family in North America were not susceptible to Bsal, but they predict that species in this large family will vary in their susceptibility and therefore some plethodontids in North American are likely to be susceptible. The fungus was lethal to both eastern and western North American newts.

Dr. Reid Harris, Director of International Disease Mitigation with the Amphibian Survival Alliance states, “Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans is indeed concerning. We have seen significant global declines and even the extinction of some amphibian species due to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a similar species of fungus. Without action, the same fate awaits many species of salamanders in Europe and in the Americas due to Bsal. The difference with Bsal is that we are ahead of the curve at this point, and if we act quickly and decisively, investing in understanding which mitigation strategies are effective, monitoring and preventing movement of the pathogen around the world, we may be able to save many species from extinction. Some immediate actions to mitigate the effects of Bsal include testing all amphibians entering countries such as the United States for pathogens, including Bd and Bsal. Currently there is no mandated testing of amphibians entering the United States in the pet trade or via other pathways. In addition, antifungal skin probiotics are a promising preventative and treatment strategy and have been successful in some laboratory and field trials of frogs and salamanders with Bd.”

Shortly after the publication of the paper, the Alliance and IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group released a statement that in part highlighted the fact that, “Unregulated and unmonitored global amphibian trade is considered a major mechanism for dispersal of invasive species, including non-native emerging infectious diseases (EID). There are currently no global safeguard standards to ensure that amphibians in the international trade are monitored and tested for amphibian diseases. This means that amphibian populations in unaffected areas are at a very high risk of being impacted by EIDs that may be transported by amphibian hosts in the pet trade.” Working with our Partners around the world we are exploring ways in which we can proactively address these issues.

Within the U.S. the Alliance submitted a letter on behalf of eighteen U.S.–based Alliance Partners to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) requesting that the agency take emergency action to prevent the spread of Bsal into the U.S. We also organized a January 14 “Bsal Summit” with the USFWS leadership in which we presented advice from the top amphibian experts, as well as strong favorable input from conservation NGOs. We urged an emergency response and are hopeful the USFWS will act soon, but its next step remains unclear.

Working with a range of stakeholders, including members of the conservation and science communities and the pet industry, we are helping to provide recommendations to the USFWS as to reasonable measures that could be implemented to reduce the risk of Bsal entering the US. There are a number of different strategies on the table at this point but in essence we are looking for an option that would allow for a clean trade in salamanders. This is likely to include a mechanism to test imported salamanders for Bsal. How and where this happens is still to be worked out however the majority of those involved, including the Alliance, are eager to see the implementation of a system that will allow trade to continue but in a way that will prevent the spread of Bsal.

By James P. Lewis, Reid Harris, Candace M. Hansen-Hendrikx & Peter Jenkins

[/text_output][text_output]In part two of this blog series we will review a Bsal diagnostic test protocol, possible treatments currently being developed and explore if clean trade measures need to apply “order-wide” or only to some high-risk imported species?

[/text_output][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][text_output]The Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) © Melinda Fawver[/text_output][text_output]Reference:

A. Martel et al.Science 346, 630–631 (2014). DOI: 10.1126/science.1258268[/text_output][gap size=”1.313em”]

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