Since the news of the latest threat to salamanders, researchers and conservation groups have not been idle. Conservation requires collaboration and what better way to get people working together than by bringing them together around the same table? That is why in August this year, the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA), Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), Warren Wilson College, University of Tennessee Center for Wildlife Health, Tennessee State University, University of California at Berkeley, and WildSouth held the first Southern Appalachians Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) meeting in Asheville, North Carolina, USA.

A range of key stakeholders attended the meeting including land managers, conservationists, herpetologists, researchers and concerned citizens, all with an interested in learning how to respond to the threat of Bsal, the newly described fungal pathogen that is killing salamanders in Europe.

Bsal is an emerging infectious disease that eats away the skin of salamanders and has already caused die-offs in Europe. It is thought to originate from Asia and might be moving globally through the amphibian pet trade. To our knowledge, Bsal is not in North America; however, a recent article in Science (Yap et al. 2015) highlights that the southern Appalachian Mountains is a high risk area due to the climate suitability for Bsal and high species richness of salamanders if the pathogen arrives. Southern Appalachia is considered one of the most biologically rich regions of the world for salamanders, home to about 50% of the world’s salamander species. The introduction of Bsal to this region could be devastating.

To ensure all attendees were fully up-to-speed on the issues, a series of interactive presentations were given at the beginning of the day. The presentation covered everything from our state of understanding, analysis or risk assessment models, an overview of current national and international policy actions, and a discussion of the role of the recently formed Bsal National Task Force. The Task Force is led by Drs. Dede Olson (dedeolson@fs.fed.us) and Jenn Ballard (jennifer_ballard@fws.gov), and composed of seven working groups that are address various aspects of Bsal (e.g., surveillance, diagnostics, response, research), which ultimately will be include in a strategic plan for the USA. .

The focus of the Asheville meeting was not to simply provide information, but rather to find ways in which local stakeholders could take a leadership role in addressing the threat. To help in this process, the group divided into two brainstorming teams to explore opportunities and concerns, and to identify priority actions. The ideas and priority actions identified by the group were relayed to the Bsal National Task Force afterwards to help them with planning. It is hoped that the regional planning model used in Asheville will be recreated around other priority sites in North America.

Throughout the workshop, a number of participants joined via videoconference, including Michelle Koo of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC-Berkeley. She shared her vision of AmphibiaWeb becoming a portal for global reporting of Bsal cases similar to Bd-maps and the Global Ranavirus Reporting System. She is working with Dede Olson to coordinate the new amphibian disease portal effort with the Task Force.

Finally with such an array of expertise in the room, it was beneficial to provide a workshop on biosecurity precautions and sample collection techniques. Dr. Debra Miller of the UT Center for Wildlife Health discussed the importance of changing or decontaminating gloves between handling different animals, and the risk of co-housing amphibians even for short durations. She showed a good example from the Smoky Mountains of how to process salamanders during a surveillance study such that pathogen transmission between captured individuals is minimized. She also discussed the importance of collecting freshly dead or live morbid individuals for submitting to a diagnostic laboratory when a disease outbreak is observed.

The fight against Bsal and other wildlife pathogens is going to require a broad, inclusive, collaborative approach. This meeting is just the beginning of engaging the people and organizations of the Southern Appalachians but it is a positive start. If you are interested in helping to support work on Bsal in the Appalachians, please contact one of the individuals below.

Presentations:

State of Understanding: Bsal Threat: Martel findings and concerns given international trade: J.J. Apodaca Ph.D., Warren Wilson College
Risk Models: Bill Sutton, Ph.D., Tennessee State University
Policy Responses: James Lewis, Amphibian Survival Alliance
National Strategic Plan: Matthew Gray, Ph.D., University of Tennessee
AmphibiaWeb’s Bsal reporting and database- Michelle Koo Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Biosecurity precautions and sample collection techniques – Debra Miller, Ph.D., University of Tennessee

Regional Contacts:

Caleb Hickman, Ph.D., Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, calehick@nc-cherokee.com
Matthew Gray, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, mgray11@utk.edu
Debra Miller, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, dmille42@utk.edu
Bill Sutton, Ph.D., Tennessee State University, wsutton@tnstate.edu
J.J. Apodaca Ph.D., Warren Wilson College, japodaca@warren-wilson.edu