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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Asian fungus threatens world's salamanders and newts

Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) with severe B. salamandrivorans infection, evidenced by skin lesions.
[Credit: Frank Pasmans]

A fungus from Asia that recently made its way to Europe, where it has killed many salamanders, may have traveled through the international pet trade, according to researchers. This fungus, known as Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is lethal to at least a dozen European and North American salamander and newt species, which means that it could pose a threat of extinction unless steps are taken to halt its spread, they say.

After the fungus was discovered in Europe last year, An Martel and colleagues studied 35 different amphibian species to find out exactly which ones were at risk. They also screened more than 5,000 amphibians from all over the world to learn more about where the fungus came from. The researchers discovered that B. salamandrivorans can only infect salamanders and newts--and that it probably originated in Asian salamanders millions of years ago, only recently reaching Europe through animal trade and trafficking.

The researchers suggest that the fungus has not yet reached the Americas, but they say that millions of Chinese fire belly newts--potential carriers of the fungus--were shipped to the U.S. for the pet trade between 2001 and 2009. If even a few of them have the fungus, it's only a matter of time before it impacts North America, they warn.