As the fire salamander population of the Netherlands has dwindled down to a measly 4% of its original number, scientists have discovered that a new and deadly fungus has been ravaging the amphibians since 2010.
The widespread deaths of the bright, black and yellow patterned salamander had been puzzling researchers until very recently, when the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was discovered. This fungus attacks the amphibians’ skin, eventually destroying the outer membrane completely and causing death.
The deadly new fungus is related to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, another fungus which has been known to decimate over 200 species of amphibians worldwide. Bd, which causes the disease chytridiomycosis, has been identified as the “single most devastating infectious disease in vertebrate animals” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
In many parts of the world, amphibians have evolved to coexist with the Bd fungus and are now able to thrive even after being exposed. However, researchers fear that that the new fungus may spread and wreak havoc on other amphibian populations that do not have resistance. The study leader, Professor An Martel, said that it is “extremely worrying that a new fungus has emerged that causes mass mortalities in regions where amphibian populations were previously healthy.”
Researchers believe that the fungus could have originated in another country and was somehow spread to the Netherlands. According to the study’s co-author, Professor Matthew Fisher, “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.” If this is the case, the origin of the fungus needs to be identified as soon as possible because it has the potential to spread rapidly and destroy amphibian populations worldwide.
Upon the identification of the new fungus, researchers took the remainder of the wild fire salamander population (now numbering only 10) into captivity. The fungus can be spread both through contact with other salamanders and by sharing the same environment, so this step needed to be taken to protect the remainder of the species.
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