Invasive amphibian fungus could threaten US salamander populations

January 20, 2016
The eft stage of a red-spotted newt in Walker County, Georgia (Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area). Photo credit: Alan Cressler, USGS.

A deadly fungus causing population crashes in wild European salamanders could emerge in the United States and threaten already declining amphibians here, according to a report released today by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Department of the Interior is working proactively to protect the nation's amphibians. The USG report released today highlights cooperative research and management efforts needed to develop and implement effective pre-invasion and post-invasion disease-management strategies if Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) enters and affects within the United States. Last week the United States Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule listing 201 salamander species as injurious under the Lacey Act, which will reduce the likelihood of introduction of Bsal into the country.

Although Bsal has not yet been found in wild U.S. salamander populations, scientists caution it is likely to emerge here because of the popularity of captive salamanders as household pets, in classrooms and in zoos; the captive amphibian trade is a known source of salamanders afflicted with the fungus.

Amphibians are the most endangered groups of vertebrates worldwide, with another fungus closely related to Bsal (Bd) contributing to amphibian die-offs and extinctions global over the last two decades.

"Based on the kinds of species affected and the fact that the United States has the highest salamander diversity in the world, this new pathogen is a major threat with the potential to exacerbate already severe amphibian declines," said Evan Grant, a USGS wildlife biologist and lead author of the USGS report. "We have the unusual opportunity to develop and apply preventative management actions in advance."

Bsal was first identified in 2013 as the cause of mass wild salamander die-offs in the Netherlands and Belgium. Captive salamander die-offs due to Bsal have occurred in the United Kingdom and Germany. Scientists believe Bsal originated in Asia and spread to wild European populations through the import and export of salamanders.

The USGS brought together scientists and managers from federal and state agencies that oversee resource conservation and management to identify research needs and management responses before Bsal arrives and becomes entrenched in the country. USGS, the USFWS, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Defense, National Park Service, zoos, and U.S. and international universities participated in the Bsal workshop.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Bsal is highly likely to emerge in U.S. populations of wild salamanders through imports of potentially infected salamanders.
  • Management actions targeted at Bsal containment after arrival in the United States may be relatively ineffective in reducing its spread.
  • A coordinated response, including rapid information sharing, is necessary to plan and respond to this potential crisis.
  • Early detection of Bsal at key amphibian import locations, in high-risk wild populations, and in field-collected samples is necessary to quickly and effectively implement management responses.

"The increasing pace of global commerce and emergence of new infectious diseases put vulnerable native wildlife populations at risk for extinction," said Grant. "Managing disease threats to the 191 species of U.S. salamanders is essential for the global conservation of salamanders."

Grant noted that the process by which Bsal research and management needs were identified could be adapted for future infectious disease threats to wildlife.

Explore further: Preventing spread of deadly salamander disease in North America

Related Stories

Preventing spread of deadly salamander disease in North America

December 10, 2015

An emerging fungal pathogen that has caused recent die-offs of salamanders in Europe, faces a formidable foe in North America: the Amphibian Survival Alliance and its partners, who today published a paper outlining the conservation ...

Farming a threat to endangered Chinese giant salamander

March 12, 2015

Researchers from ZSL and the Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, surveyed 43 farms in China and worked with the Shaanxi Province Fisheries Office to investigate the Chinese giant salamander farming industry. They found that, ...

Temperature effects on the Chinese giant salamander

December 4, 2014

Currently, there are over 3,000 animal species on the verge of extinction worldwide. Hunting, land development, and habitat relocation have contributed to a rapid decline in the number of most of these species.

Recommended for you

What humans and primates both know when it comes to numbers

January 18, 2017

For the past several years, Jessica Cantlon has been working to understand how humans develop the concept of numbers, from simple counting to complex mathematical reasoning. Early in her career at the University of Rochester, ...

Male baboons found to engage in feticide

January 18, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from several institutions in the U.S., some with ties to the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, has found that male baboons in the wild at times engage in feticide. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.