A similar infection has previously led to the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species around the world, and the latest edition has proved itself to be a major threat to salamanders.
The spread of the disease has been attributed to “globalization and a lack of biosecurity.” The international team of researchers, writing in the journal Science, claimed that the importation of fire-bellied newts from Asia was probably to blame.
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Salamanders in grave danger
Lead researcher An Martel, of Ghent University in Belgium, has spoken out on the findings, and recommended that any amphibians entering Europe and the U.S. should be screened. Scientists in the field have united in an attempt to ensure greater action from governments.
“We need to think about biosecurity not just in terms of humans and food that we eat and crops that we grow,” said Vance T. Vredenburg of San Francisco State University. “We need to think about functioning ecosystems.”
Dr. Vredenburg has been researching the wave of frog disappearances over the past forty years, which were caused by a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The origins of the fungus are still not known. The new infection is called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, and both kill animals by infecting the skin.
Although salamanders may often go unnoticed, they play a huge role in regulating forest and aquatic ecosystems. The salamander population of the U.S. is the most diverse in the world, with many species already on the endangered list.
Among the potential effects of a decimation of the salamander population is more rapid climate change. If salamanders no longer control the population of its prey, their proliferation could lead to more carbon being released into the atmosphere.
Several Asian species of salamanders were found to be resistant to the fungus, but 41 of the 44 species infected over the course of the study “rapidly died”.
Co-author Karen R. Lips at the University of Maryland claims that there are now bills in Congress that would give powers to screen for infected wildlife. We can only hope that greater notice is taken of the problem before the great diversity of salamander species is wiped out, with all of the problems that that would entail.