Public Release: 

Preventing spread of deadly salamander disease in North America

New publication outlines swift and coordinated action in the conservation community

University of Otago

An emerging fungal pathogen that has caused recent die-offs of salamanders in Europe, faces a formidable foe in North America: the Amphibian Survival Alliance and its partners, who today published a paper outlining the conservation community's proactive efforts to prevent the introduction and spread of the disease in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"We are more encouraged by this response than any previous response to an amphibian emergency," said James Lewis, ASA's director of operations. "What we have seen here is an amazingly strong collaboration and open response from all stakeholders. We not only have the science community talking, but we also have the pet industry, private pet owners, policymakers, animal welfare advocates and the conservation community putting aside differences and coming together."

It has been one year since scientists in Europe broke the news of their alarming discovery of the pathogen, Batrachocytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which is similar to a fungal pathogen that has devastated populations of frogs in the neotropics, Australia and the western United States. The story published today in PLOS Pathogens summarizes the swift action the conservation community has already taken to prevent the spread of Bsal in North America and lays out plans to respond swiftly if it does arrive. Some actions have included:

  • Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) forming a National Disease Task Team to facilitate the development of a strategic plan for Bsal;

  • The U.S. Geological Survey and PARC holding workshops on Bsal;

  • The creation of a Bsal National Task Force that can address all facets of Bsal preparedness, response, research and management;

  • Creation of a website and LISTSERV to disseminate information on Bsal;

  • The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) working via the Bsal National Task Force Response to develop a customizable Bsal rapid response plan template for both wild and captive salamanders;

  • AFWA and ASA working together to draft improved policies for wildlife disease management, using Bsal as an example.

Conservation organizations have also been calling for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to put into place rules that would aid in preventing the fungal pathogen from reaching North America, but so far USFWS hasn't taken such action.

"What we really need is to keep Bsal out of North America as long as possible, allowing us time to better understand this pathogen and how to address it," said Priya Nanjappa, amphibian and reptile conservation policy lead for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. "Unfortunately the policy tools are just not in place for swift action, even when urgency is required."

"North America's diversity of salamander species truly makes this region of the natural world special," said Matthew Gray, professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Tennessee. "Salamanders provide society numerous benefits including use as educational tools, in carbon cycling, and even in shedding light on biomedical procedures."

"Fifty percent of the 682 salamander species are only found in North America, and in some cases, although they may be cryptic and difficult to find, they make up a signiicant proportion of the biomass in forests" said Phil Bishop, Professor of Zoology at New Zealand's University of Otago and Chief Scientist for the Amphibian Survival Alliance. "In particular, Mexico and the Appalachian Mountains are collectively home to more than 100 species of lungless salamanders, which could be wiped out by this emerging disease."

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The paper's authors are: Matthew Gray, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; James Lewis, Amphibian Survival Alliance; Priya Nanjappa, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Blake Klocke, George Mason University; Frank Pasmans and An Martel, Ghent Univeristy; Craig Stephen, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative; Gabriela Parra Olea, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (currently on sabbatical at the University of Otago, New Zealand); Scott A. Smith, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Lincoln Park Zoo; Michelle Christman, U.S. Fish and Widlife Service; Jennifer Williams, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation; Deanna Olson, U.S. Forest Service.

Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA)

The Amphibian Survival Alliance is the world's largest partnership for amphibian conservation, formed in response to the decline of frogs, salamanders and caecilians worldwide. Without immediate and coordinated action we stand to lose half of some 7,000 species of amphibians in our lifetimes. The ASA draws on cutting-edge research to protect amphibians and key habitats worldwide, in addition to educating and inspiring the global community to become a part of the amphibian conservation movement. http://www.amphibians.org

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