Skin-Eating Fungus Killing Fire Salamanders

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Fire salamander numbers in Netherland’s forests had been mysteriously declining since 2010, but scientists were puzzled at what was killing the salamanders and causing the steep drop in their population. Now, they have the answer, but they might be too late to save them, as they are close to extinction there. Only 10 Fire salamanders are left in the area, just four percent of the original amount of these amphibians.

What is the cause of the decline in Fire salamanders in the Netherlands?

Scientists have identified the cause of the rapid drop in the population numbers of Fire salamanders in the Netherlands. The colorful forest-dwelling amphibians  are being wiped out by Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, which is a disease that eats the skin of the Fire salamanders and eventually kills them. The second word in Latin means “salamander eating.”

According to Imperial College London Professor Matthew Fisher, who coauthored the research study:

It is a complete mystery why we are seeing this outbreak now, and one explanation is that the new salamander-killing fungus has invaded the Netherlands from elsewhere in the world. We need to know if this is the case, why it is so virulent, and what its impact on amphibian communities will be on a local and global scale.”

This skin-eating fungus is related to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. It’s a fungus which has caused the extinction of more than 200 species of amphibians, and the international Union for the Conservation of Nature has called it the “single most devastating infectious disease in vertebrate animals” according to the Science Recorder.

Before the Fire salamanders contract it, the skin-eating fungus might live in the soil, or might live in the water; no one is certain exactly yet. It might be a type of parasite. The fungus results in some frogs but not all, and some salamanders, to also contract the disease chytridiomycosis.

According to scientists, the fungus can pass from one salamander who has it directly coming into contact with another one.

Special tools have been developed to detect the fungus if any other Fire salamanders become infected with it. Also, for their own protection, the remaining Fire salamanders have been rounded up and captured. So far, after 100 salamanders were collected and tested using the new diagnostic tool in Belgium, there have been no indications that the skin-eating fungus has been found elsewhere in the world, so scientists hope its spread has been contained by their efforts.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study documented the decline of the Fire salamanders as well as describe a method to save the remaining salamanders through a treatment program.

The skin-eating fungus that has almost caused the extinction of the Fire salamanders of the Netherlands is deadly. It is not yet known if the species can somehow rebound from their plight.

 

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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