Our Salamanders May Be in Trouble
Scientists cite Asian fungus, lack of biosecurity
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2014 9:40 AM CDT
A skin-eating fungal disease brought to Europe by humans poses a major threat to fire salamanders.   (University of Zurich / Frank Pasmas)
camera-icon View 1 more image

(Newser) – When a fungus that has coexisted with amphibians in Asia for 30 million years recently found its way to the Netherlands, only 10 fire salamanders managed to escape death there. The fungus eats the skin, and that tends to prove fatal because amphibians perform much of their respiration through their skin and thus can no longer breathe. "Most of the salamander species that come into contact with this fungus die within weeks," the lead author of a paper published in Science tells the BBC. To wit, of the 44 species of salamanders and newts they infected with Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, all but three "rapidly died." And with "no real barriers that prevent the spread of the fungus throughout Europe," the researchers expect it to move beyond the Netherlands and Belgium soon.

So 27 researchers from around the world are writing in Science that, given the "lack of biosecurity" in the pet trade, the US needs to start screening amphibians before its own diverse but delicate populations are knocked out as well, reports the New York Times. "We found [the fungus] early enough to have a chance," one researcher says. "The Titanic knows there’s an iceberg out there." Scientists say the Chinese fire-bellied newt likely brought the fungus to Europe, though one says not to "call [the newt] a villain" because "they're not jumping onto airplanes of their own volition. Let's call it the poor, trafficked amphibian." (Amphibians in general are disappearing faster than previously thought.)