- $645 Pledged
- $4,355 To go
Introduction - what is going on?
That amphibians are the most imperilled group of terrestrial vertebrates is a fact we are all well aware of in the amphibian conservation community but in general is something not everyone thinks about on a daily basis (Alroy, 2015). Over 40% of all species are endangered in their existence and one of the most important threats are emerging infectious diseases (Stuart et al., 2004, Duffus & Cunningham, 2010). The infamous chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and Ranavirus are relatively well known for causing numerous declines and extinctions in amphibians worldwide. Unfortunately, a new chytrid fungus was recently discovered infecting Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra terrestris) in the Netherlands by scientists and their partners of Ghent University (Martel et al., 2013). This fungus hails from Southeast Asia and has probably been imported with Asian salamanders to Europe (which have co-evolved with the fungus). This deadly pathogen has escaped into the wild and has caused the population of Fire salamanders in the Netherlands to plummet to the point of near extinction (Spitzen-van der Sluijs et al., 2013; Martel et al., 2014). The new pathogen has been dubbed Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (hereafter Bsal) or roughly translated: the eater of salamanders. A name well suited for this fungus as it literally eats the skin of its host and seems to exclusively infects Urodelans (salamanders and newts)!
Picture 1: A fire salamander infected with B.salamandrivorans. ( picture credit Frank Pasmans).
Trouble in Northwestern Europe!
Unfortunately it has not stopped there. Studies in the laboratory by Martel et al. (2014) already demonstrated that many European salamander and newts species quickly succumb to the disease as do some North American species. A recent study by Spitzen et al. (2016) showed that Bsal currently is distributed in an area as large as ≈10,000 km2 in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Not only has the fungus expanded its range but also is affecting more host species. Its deadly appetite in the wild is not only limited to fire salamanders but also smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and alpine newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris). In the latter it has already caused mortalities in several Dutch and Belgian populations and others are declining fast (Spitzen et al., 2016). A disaster for all European salamanders and newts is just around the corner and projections indicate that large parts of Europe may become affected in the next 20-50 years. Having seen what Bsal's congener Bd has done around the globe this is very worrying indeed!
Picture 2: Two alpine newts found dead in Belgium (picture credit Annelies Jacobs, Natuurpunt.be)
Not only in the wild!
Similarly Bsal has also been detected in a salamander collection in Germany after causing a mass mortality of captive individuals of Salamandra species (Sabino-Pinto et al., 2015). Four Salamandra species were affected; Salamandra algira from North Africa, S. corsica from the Island of Corsica, S. infraimmaculata from the Near East and S. salamandra and its twelve sub species which can be found throughout large parts of Europe (from Portugal to the Ukraine). Recently Bsal was also detected in quarantined amphibians in the UK which were newly acquired from a UK amphibian breeder by a zoological collection (Cunningham et al., 2015). The infected animals either died while in quarantine or were euthanised to prevent any further spread of the disease.
Picture 3: The Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), still a common sight throughout large parts of Europe. (Picture credit Tariq Stark)
The Americas - a salamander hotspot!
The study published by Martel et al. (2014) showed that all European salamanders and newts were highly susceptible to Bsal in laboratory settings and die soon after infection including some North American species. In Europe we could lose up to 44 species and even more in the Americas (more than 300)! This is no longer a problem limited to just Northwestern Europe but could become a global problem very soon. In two recent papers by Yap et al. (2015) and Richgels et al. (2016) the potential of a North American biodiversity crisis if Bsal would be introduced on this Continent is underlined and urges for immediate action! Two other paper have also revealed the threats to American salamanders and laid out a plan of action needed to prevent an outbreak of Bsal in the US and erected a “Bsal Task Force” (Gray et al., 2015; Grant et al., 2016). In January 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) took action to ban the importation of 201 species of salamanders they saw as being ‘injurious’ to native salamanders. It is hope that this ban will help prevent the introduction of Bsal to the US. Similarly in Europe, on February 2016 a letter was sent to the European Commission by 17 scientists and 27 nature organisations asking for the immediate implementation of the recommendation by the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention, and for the listing of Bsal as a pathogen of Union concern under the animal health legislation.
Picture 4: Three species of newts in the Netherlands caught for research on infectious diseases. Gone soon? (Picture credit Bas de Wit.)
Why should you care?
Salamanders are very important to ecosystems and especially us. For example, they are great at pest control because they eat invertebrates that are harmful to crops and invertebrates that transmit diseases. They also can help limit the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. They keep the carbon in the soil by eating the invertebrates that would have released the carbon into the atmosphere when they eat leaves and other plant material. Salamanders are also important in the foodwebs as both prey and predator. Also, many species have the unique ability to connect aquatic and terrestrial foodwebs with each other. All of these reasons and many, many more are worthy of us making an effort and save our fellow earthlings!
Picture 5: Two leaflitter critters, a snail and a fire salamander, both hugely important to forest ecosystems! (Picture credit Thierry Kinet)
Picture 6: Two juvenile fire salamanders in Wallonia, not only important to the ecosystem in deciduous forests but also pretty cute! (Picture credit Tariq Stark)
It all started in the Netherlands but as mentioned it is now wreaking havoc in neighbouring Germany and Belgium. Belgium and especially the Southern Provence called Wallonia is home to large populations of fire salamanders. This area is a gateway to other populations of fire salamanders (and newts) in Luxembourg, Germany and France. We urgently need more information on the distribution of Bsal in this part of Belgium. That is where you come in! We plan to collect non invasive (meaning no harm will be done to he animals) skin samples in the field from salamanders in locations Bsal where has not been documented yet in Wallonia. Since this is a huge task proffesionals, students and volunteers from Wallonian ecological conservation society Natagora and the University of Liege will undertake a lot of surveys and disease monitoring. The samples will be sent to Gent University in Belgium for analysis. The analysis will be performed by the scientists that originally discovered the fungus, Dr. An Martel and Dr. Frank Pasmans. The analysis will determine if a salamander was infected with the fungus or not.
Picture 7: A salamander being "swabbed". With a cue tip a non invasive skin sample is taken. The salamander is unharmed an released after. (Picture credit Tariq Stark).
This is where YOU come in! We need your help to perform this study.
The analysis of lab one test costs a whopping $32 (USD)!
No donation is too little or too much, all is welcome! By donating you can actively contribute to this study and salamander conservation in Europe! All donations will be allocated to pay for the analysis of the samples.
- Donation $1-9 (US D): You receive a high quality digital image of a Fire Salamander or a North American salamander species with your name and our sincere thanks on it. We’ll also post your name on the WorthWild and The Wandering Herpetologist websites to celebrate your commitment to this cause!
- Donation $10 – 31 (US D): You receive the $1-9 gifts plus a digital copy of a fun-filled salamander coloring book. This coloring book was created by Sara Viernum from The Wandering Herpetologist and is an amazing way to get acquainted with the salamander diversity in North America.
- Donation $32 (USD) or more: By donating 32 or more you will make it possible to analyze one swab sample and determine if salamander is infected with Bsal! For your donation you receive all the $1-9 and $10-31 gifts plus something extra. You’ll get a digital image of one of the salamanders we swabbed in the field. You’ll also be featured on the websites with a photograph of the animal you helped!
Be a salamander hero and donate today!
Picture 8: One of the North American species that are highly susceptible to Bsal: Taricha granulosa. This salamander species, and many others, need YOU! (picture credit Tariq Stark)
Alroy, J. (2015). Current extinction rates of reptiles and amphibians. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.. 112:130003-13008.
Cunningham, A. A., Beckmann, K., Perkins, M., Fitzpatrick, L., Cromie, R., Redbond, J., O’Brien, M. F., Ghosh, P., Shelton, J. & Fisher, M. C. (2015). Emerging disease in UK amphibians. The Veterinary Record, 176(18), 468.
Duffus, A. L., & Cunningham, A. A. (2010). Major disease threats to European amphibians. The Herpetological Journal, 20(3), 117-127.
Grant, E.H.C., Muths, E., Katz, R.A., Canessa, Stefano, Adam, M.J., Ballard, J.R., Berger, Lee, Briggs, C.J., Coleman, Jeremy, Gray, M.J., Harris, M.C., Harris, R.N., Hossack, Blake, Huyvaert, K.P., Kolby, J.E., Lips, K.R., Lovich, R.E., McCallum, H.I., Mendelson, J.R., III, Nanjappa, Priya, Olson, D.H., Powers, J.G., Richgels, K.L.D., Russell, R.E., Schmidt, B.R., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, Annemarieke, Watry, M.K., Woodhams, D.C., and White, C.L., 2016, Salamander chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) in the United States—Developing research, monitoring, and management strategies: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1233, 16 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20151233.
Gray, M.J., Lewis, J.P., Nanjappa, P., Klocke, B., Pasmans, F., Martel, A., Stephen, C., Olea, G.P., Smith, S.A., Sacerdote-Velat, A. and Christman, M.R. (2015). Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans: The North American Response and a Call for Action. PLoS Pathogens, 11(12), e1005251.
Martel, A., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, A., Blooi, M., Bert, W., Ducatelle, R., Fisher, M. C., Woeltjes, A., Bosman, W., Chiers, K., Bossuyt, F. & Pasmans, F. (2013). Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans sp. nov. causes lethal chytridiomycosis in amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(38), 15325-15329.
Martel, A., Blooi, M., Adriaensen, C., Van Rooij, P., Beukema, W., Fisher, M. C., Farrer, R. A., Schmidt, B. R., Tobler, U., Goka, K., Lips, K.R., Muletz, C., Zamudio, K. R., Bosch, J. Lötters, S., Wombwell, E., Garner, T. W. J., Cunningham, A. A., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, A., Salvidio, S., Ducatelle, R., Nishikawa, K., Nguyen, T. T., Kolby, J. E., Van Bocxlaer, I., Bossuyt, F. & Pasmans, F. (2014). Recent introduction of a chytrid fungus endangers Western Palearctic salamanders. Science, 346(6209), 630-631.
Richgels, K. L., Russell, R. E., Adams, M. J., White, C. L., & Grant, E. H. C. (2016). Spatial variation in risk and consequence of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans introduction in the USA. Royal Society Open Science, 3(2), 150616.
Sabino-Pinto, J., Bletz, M., Hendrix, R., Perl, R. B., Martel, A., Pasmans, F., Lötters, S., Mutschmann, F., Schmeller, D. S., Schmidt, B. R., Veith, M., Wagner, N., Vences, M. & Steinfartz, S. (2015). First detection of the emerging fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in Germany. Amphibia-Reptilia, 1-5.
Spitzen - van der Sluijs, A., Spikmans, F., Bosman, W., de Zeeuw, M., Goverse, E., Kik, M., Pasmans, F., Martel., A. (2013): Rapid enigmatic decline drives the ﬁre salamander (Salamandra salamandra) to the edge of extinction in the Netherlands. Amphibia-Reptilia 34, 233-239.
Spitzen-van der Sluijs, A., Martel, A., Asselberghs J, Bales, E.K., Beukema, W, Bletz, M.C., et al. Expanding distribution of lethal amphibian fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in Europe. Emerg Infect Dis. 2016 Jul. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2207.160109
Stuart, S. N., Chanson, J. S., Cox, N. A., Young, B. E., Rodrigues, A. S., Fischman, D. L., & Waller, R. W. (2004). Status and trends of amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide. Science, 306(5702), 1783-1786.
Yap, T. A., Koo, M. S., Ambrose, R. F., Wake, D. B., & Vredenburg, V. T. (2015). Averting a North American biodiversity crisis. Science, 349(6247), 481-482.
Created by: Sara Viernum