Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Deadly Salamander Fungus Could Spread to North America

A deadly fungal disease has spread from Asia to Europe, killing large numbers of salamanders. The disease could easily spread to North America via the pet trade. Amphibians already have to contend with the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also known as Bd, which is having a devastating effect on amphibians around the world. This fungus has caused some species of amphibians to become extinct. Now salamanders are being attacked by a related fungus, which researchers have named Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

A fire salamander; photo by Didier Descouens,
CC BY-SA 3.0 License
The newly discovered fungus gained attention when it devastated the population of wild fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) in the Netherlands. Facts about the fungal infection known so far include the following:
  • Salamanders in Asia that are infected by the fungus don't appear to be suffering any ill effects and have likely developed some degree of resistance to the fungus.
  • Lab tests have shown that the fungus affects salamanders and newts but not frogs or toads.
  • No North American animals have been shown to be infected by the fungus at the moment. 
  • Given the large number of pet salamanders and newts transported into North America, some researchers think that the fungus is likely already present on the continent. 
  • In lab tests, all specimens of a newt commonly kept as a pet in North America died when exposed to the fungus.
  • The same observation was made in relation to a wild newt with a widespread distribution in North America.
B. salamadrivorans grows in a salamander's skin. It's not known how it kills the salamander, but it may work by a similar mechanism to B. dendrobatidis. Many (but not all) amphibians have lungs, but these aren't very efficient. Much of an amphibian's oxygen is obtained through its skin. B. dendrobatidis interferes with respiration and the uptake of water and minerals. The presence of the new fungus in North America could be very bad news indeed.

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