Save the salamanders

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) is an emerging fungal pathogen that has caused recent die-offs of salamanders in Europe. Laboratory experiments have shown that it can kill some North American species as well, confirming a serious threat to salamander populations on the continent.

A Pearl (a short essay) published on December 10th in PLOS Pathogens summarizes what is known about the threat posed by the pathogen, discusses current initiatives in the USA, Canada, and Mexico to mitigate the threat, and calls for the creation of a North American Bsal Strategic Plan.

“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,” state corresponding author Matthew Gray from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, USA, and colleagues from the USA, Mexico, Canada, and Europe.

As they discuss, North America is a global hotspot for salamander biodiversity, accounting for about 50% of species worldwide. In the continent’s forests, the biomass of salamanders can exceed the biomass of all other vertebrate species, and salamanders are key players in a variety of ecosystems.

The lesson from other recently introduced fungal plant and animal pathogens (including those causing white-nose syndrome in bats or chestnut blight), they say, is that “preventing introduction is the best way to protect populations, but, if introduction occurs, rapid response is essential.”

Bsal was likely introduced to Europe from Asia through the commercial amphibian trade. Salamanders represent 5.5% of the amphibians imported into the USA, and their estimated annual market value is less than a million US dollars.

The authors mention that one European country has responded to the Bsal threat with a total import ban for salamanders. They do not call for such a ban in North America, but the proposed plan includes “strategies to prevent or reduce the risk of Bsal entry into the United States, Canada, and Mexico.”

Overall, they state that “the response to the threat of Bsal behooves a cooperative effort across non-governmental organizations, government agencies, academic institutions, zoos, the pet industry, and concerned citizens to avoid the potential catastrophic effects of Bsal on North American salamanders” and propose concrete steps to be taken immediately.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily