Europe: Fungus threatens salamander population

Europe: Fungus threatens salamander population

A skin-eating fungus that infiltrated Europe through the global wildlife trade is threatening to inflict massive losses on the continent’s native salamanders. It could wipe out the species there and in North America, scientists say.

The fungus, first detected in Europe in 2013, has killed salamanders in the Netherlands and Belgium and is expected soon to reach other European nations, an international research team said in October 2014. The fungus is closely related to another that already has wiped out some amphibian species, they said.

The scientists have found no sign of the fungus in North American amphibians but worry that it will surface via a pet trade that has funneled millions of Chinese fire belly newts to the United States.

The researchers tracked the origins and geographical presence of the fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, by examining about 5,400 samples accounting for about 150 varieties of amphibians in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa.

The study, published in the journal Science, found the fungus specifically kills various salamanders and newts, a subgroup of the salamander family.

The fungus invades a salamander’s skin, an organ vital to its respiratory system, causing ulcers.

The fungus appears to have originated in Southeast Asia 30 million years ago, reaching Europe recently through the trade in Asian newts. Using museum specimens, the scientists found the fungus in amphibians from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan as early as the 19th century without causing disease. Creatures in the region have apparently developed resistance, but those from other regions may be vulnerable.

University of Maryland ecologist Karen Lips, another of the researchers, underscored the danger in North America, saying, “The impact on our native salamander diversity might be very high because the U.S. is the world’s greatest biodiversity ‘hot spot’ for salamanders. We have more species and families here than anywhere else in the world.”  Reuters