The recent introduction from Europe to North America of the pathogen that causes White Nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) has led to the decimation of millions of bats. However, bats aren’t the only creatures dying in large numbers due to disease. Native herpetofauna – frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, and turtles – are in trouble, too.

Viruses, fungi, protozoans, bacteria, and parasites are finding their way into herpetofaunal populations native to North America, and the exotic invaders are having negative effects on some of the most imperiled animals on the globe. In some cases, the pathogens are already present and changes in environmental conditions are resulting in their emergence. The recent outbreaks of pathogens such as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, ranavirus, and Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, are especially troubling, because they can lead to death of lots of individuals.

To combat the problem, the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) formed a new disease task team made up of biologists, veterinarians, and wildlife managers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico with the goal of facilitating and guiding communication, collaboration and response to outbreaks of herpetofaunal diseases. The team is co-chaired by Matt Gray, Ph.D. of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and Matt Allender, DVM, Ph.D. with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The team includes members from government agencies, private organizations, universities and zoos.

“There is clear evidence that pathogens are capable of causing declines in herpetofaunal populations, and in some cases, species extinctions,” said Gray. “We have the tools to respond quickly to herpetofaunal disease outbreaks; however, to be efficient and effective, we need coordination of those efforts.”

Allender agreed, “Ensuring the health of herpetofaunal populations requires an integrated response and management plan that combines epidemiological knowledge, pathogen surveillance, population monitoring, biomedical diagnostics and intervention strategies. Through PARC, this team is uniquely poised to connect the critical pieces and players to make this happen.” The team is already working to coordinate and respond to a deadly fungus (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, Bsal) that is killing salamanders in Europe, but that is not yet believed to be present in the U.S.

“In only a couple months since our formation, the team has made several large steps at organizing coordinated efforts to look for Bsal in wild and captive populations of amphibians,” said Task Team member, Dede Olson, Ph.D. of the U.S. Forest Service. “Ultimately, we hope to develop a national strategic plan that includes guidance on strategies for Bsal surveillance, and what should be done if it is detected in the wild or in captivity.” With team members from Canada and Mexico, the strategic plan will have broad application. The team plans to release more details on their Bsal efforts soon.

For more information on the Team’s mission or current activities, please check out the PARC Disease Task Team Page.