B. salamandrivorans: Are salamanders and newts facing the next global amphibian epidemic?

First, many apologies for not posting in a long time. Over Christmas break I completely zoned out and did almost nothing productive, and before then I was nose-to-the-grindstone on final assignments and grading for the Biology labs that I teach. When your advisers and older friends tell you that graduate school is a lot of work, more work than when you are an undergraduate… they are not exaggerating. The nice thing is that you do have a little more freedom in your schedule since you will probably take less classes.

European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) exhibiting signs of infection by B. salamandrivorans. Photo by Frank Pasmans.

Anyway, enough about graduate school. In between the craziness, I did select out an article from last year to talk about on this blog. A previous post in this blog briefly mentioned the new chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, but did not go into detail. In October of last year, an article was published in Science by authors who conducted surveys of European amphibians and found that B. salamandrivorans (let’s just call it Bs from now on) was found only on salamanders and newts. The authors suggested that Bs may have originated from Asia, where amphibians were resistant to it, but was accidentally transported to Europe, where the salamanders and newts had never been exposed to it before. As a result, populations of the European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), the species on which Bs was first discovered, have been devastated by the disease.

Will Bs cause another global amphibian epidemiconly with salamanders and newts? That remains to be seen. For now, it is probably only a matter of time before this fungus is transported to the U.S. through captive animals or field equipment that has not been properly sanitized. Since the southeastern U.S. is widely considered to be a global hotspot of salamander diversity, the spread of a fungus specialized in infecting salamanders and newts could be devastating in this country. Many salamanders in the U.S. are endemic, meaning that their ranges are restricted to small areas, so they are particularly likely to face extinction in the event of a massive breakout of Bs. All of us can help to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like salamandrivorans by bleaching and properly sanitizing boots or nets that were used in the field, never releasing captive animals, and carefully sanitizing any materials that may have come into contact with infected captive or wild animamls before disposal. If your pet fire salamander dies, you may be tempted by sentimentality to bury it in the backyard, but if that salamander was a carrier of Bs, the best thing to do might be to burn it, boil it, or soak its body in bleach or alcohol for several days before disposing of it to eliminate any possibility of transmitting the chytrid fungus to U.S. soil.

Rich Mountain salamander (Plethodon ouachitae)

Rich Mountain salamander (Plethodon ouachitae), a species endemic to the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas

Frog: 11, Fungus: 18

Comments Off on B. salamandrivorans: Are salamanders and newts facing the next global amphibian epidemic?

Filed under Uncategorized

Comments are closed.