US scientists have been keeping a worried eye on a fast-spreading fungus overseas that proves devastating to salamanders, and yesterday in Science they issued a plea to the federal government: Stop the imports of salamanders immediately. The stakes are about much more than pet store sales, explains LiveScience: North America is home to almost half of the world's salamander species, and the creatures play a big role in local ecosystems. Among other things, they gobble up insects and are themselves a food source for larger predators. "This is the hot bed in the world for diversity of amphibians, and if that fungus gets here, it's going to be devastating," says study author Vance Vredenburg of San Francisco State University.
The culprit is Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, the cousin of a fungus lethal to frogs. "This fungus is much worse," says a Berkeley researcher, per the LA Times. "Bsal is an acute infection that just turns them into little masses of slime in three to four days." Researchers think it originated in Asia and has since spread to Europe via the pet trade. Given that thousands of salamanders are imported to the US yearly from Asia, the researchers say it's only a matter of time before catastrophe strikes here—unless something is done. Two environmental groups have petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to take action, but the Christian Science Monitor quotes a spokesperson who says that probably won't happen anytime soon because the conservation law in question isn't set up for use "on an emergency basis." (A much older fungus may have gotten dinosaurs high.)