Europe's salamanders may be doomed

Until recently, the Bunderbos was the best place in the Netherlands to find fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra). But starting around 2008, the population in the Bunderbos began to plummet for no apparent reason. When Frank Pasmans and An Martel, veterinarians here at Ghent University, heard about the enigmatic deaths, they recalled extinctions caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a highly lethal fungus that infects more than 700 species of amphibian. Yet tests for Bd at their lab were negative. The declines became so alarming that RAVON removed 39 fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) from the park, safe-guarding them temporarily in an employee's basement. When these animals began to die as well, Spitzen-van der Sluijs rushed them here, about 2 hours away, where Martel and Pasmans cultured a fungus from a salamander clinging to life. It was a new pathogen, related to Bd. They named it B. salamandrivorans (Bsal) for the ulcers that voraciously eat away at the animals' skin. By the time Martel and Pasmans identified the fungus, it had annihilated the population in the Bunderbos. So began a bittersweet odyssey for the couple, partners in life as well as work. Studies they have led since their initial discovery show that Bsal—probably introduced from Asia by the pet trade—has the potential to wipe out salamander populations across Europe. An even bigger fear is that the pathogen will reach North America, which holds the world's greatest diversity of salamanders. (Tennessee alone has 57 species.)

Source: Science, 21 July 2017