International Coalition Raising the Alarm in the Face of a New Pathogen Threatening Salamanders

 

A Fire salamander covered with Bsal ulcerations, by Frank Pasmans, CC-By.
Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) covered with Bsal ulcerations, which are visible as black spots. Photo by essay co-author Frank Pasmans, CC-BY. Download image​.

 



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In an essay published in PLOS Pathogens, Dr. Matt Gray, a researcher with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture Center for Wildlife Health, along with a coalition of international scientists describe a new threat to the survival of some North American salamanders. The threat is posed by Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), an emerging fungal pathogen that has caused recent die-offs of salamanders in Europe. Laboratory experiments have confirmed that the pathogen can kill some North American species as well.

Gray and his colleagues from across the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Europe say now is the time to act to save the salamanders.
“All evidence suggests that we are at a critical time of action to protect global amphibian biodiversity by swift policy actions to prevent the translocation of Bsal,” they write in the essay.


Salamanders in North America account for about 50 percent of the salamander species worldwide, and salamanders are key players in a variety of ecosystems, serving as predators for many insect species, including some that can affect human health, and as metrics of biotic integrity. They are even thought to play a role in carbon cycling and buffering climate change.

The scientists say salamander communities in the southern Appalachian Mountains, southeastern and northwestern United States, southwestern Canada, and central Mexico may be at greatest risk of decline and even extinction.

Bsal
was likely introduced to Europe from Asia through the commercial amphibian trade. Salamanders represent 5.5 percent of the amphibians imported into the U.S., and although their estimated annual market value is less than $1 million, accidental introduction of Bsal could devastate North American salamander populations.

The group of scientists is not calling for a ban on salamander trade, but they do propose a set of strategies to prevent or reduce the risk of introducing Bsal to the North American continent. They write, “The response to the threat of Bsal calls for a cooperative effort across nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, academic institutions, zoos, the pet industry, and concerned citizens to avoid the potential catastrophic effects of Bsal on salamanders outside of the pathogen’s endemic regions. Communication, collaboration, and expedited action are key to ensure that Bsal does not become established in North America and decimate wild salamander populations.


Gray was recently named co-chair of a new team of experts combating the spread of emerging diseases in North American amphibians and reptiles, the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) disease task team. The team includes members from government agencies, private organizations, universities and zoos. For more information on the team’s mission and activities, please visit the PARC Disease Task Team online at the PARC website: parcplace.org/parcplace/resources/disease-task-team.html  

PLOS, the Public Library of Science,
is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization founded to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. The PLOS Pathogens essay can be found online at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1005251

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu.

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Contact: 

​Dr. Matthew J. Gray, UTIA Center for Wildlife Health, 865-974-2740, 
mgray11@utk.edu



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