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Scientists Urge Immediate U.S. Ban on Importation of Asian Salamanders

August 4, 2015



A new fungus that is a close relative to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is present in salamanders in Asia, and scientists are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of salamanders from Asia into the United States until more is known about the disease. Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was discovered in 2013 in the Netherlands, killing fire salamanders. The scientists say that the fungus, which is specific to salamanders, is also in Belgium and the United Kingdom. They say that the fungus is spread via the pet trade. 

rough-skinned newt

Miguel Vieira/Flickr

The rough-skinned newt is susceptible to Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

“This fungus is much worse than the chytrid fungus, which is more like a lingering disease that affects the skin and puts stress on the salamander until it dies,” said David Wake, a professor in the graduate school at UC Berkeley and the director and founder of AmphibiaWeb, an online database of information on amphibian biology. “Bsal is an acute infection that just turns them into little masses of slime in three to four days.”

The scientists write in their paper “Averting a North American biodiversity crisis,” that because there are no effective means to control the spread of Bsal once it becomes established in wild host populations, if it were to become established in North America, wild salamanders could decline and become extinct. This is telling in that North and Central America is home to 48 percent of all known salamander species. It is the biological hotspot for these amphibians. Reports say that the fungus has a 96 percent fatality rate with European salamanders, though Asian salamanders can tolerate the fungus. Studies of the rough-skinned newt  (Taricha granulosa), which lives on the West Coast, and the Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) , which is an East Coast species, show that these salamanders are  highly susceptible to the fungus.

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