Scientists call for a ban on salamander imports due to deadly fungus

A group of scientists are calling for a ban on importing salamanders into the United States in an effort to hold back the bsal fungus. While the fungus doesn’t appear to bother salamanders in its native Asia, it is deadly to nearly every non-resistant salamander that encounters it.

In China, the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) fungus is believed to have co-evolved with the local salamander population. However, when Chinese salamanders were imported into the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany it resulted in a 96 percent mortality rate in local salamander populations that encountered it. I lab tests, the fungus was found to have a similar effect on American salamanders.

To date there are no known cases of bsal in wild salamander populations in the US. The researchers are concerned, however, that if it should arrive it will wipe out native North American salamander populations.

North and Central America are home to almost half of the world’s known salamander populations, many of which are already endangered.

In a paper published in the Policy Forum of the journal Science San Francisco State University biologist, Vance Vredenburg graduate studen Tiffany Yap and colleagues from the University of California Berkeley urge the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to place a ban on importing salamanders to the United States.

“In the midst of an ongoing sixth mass extinction, more than 40% of all amphibians are threatened … With no effective means to control spread of Bsal once it is established in wild host populations, Bsal invasion of North America could lead to rapid epizootic (wildlife epidemic) declines and extinctions in the world’s richest and most diverse salamander fauna,” wrote the researchers.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, more than 70 salamander species worldwide are listed as “critically endangered”, meaning that they are at a high risk of extinction.

According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 100,000 salamanders are imported annually through Los Angeles alone. The majority of these come in as part of the pet trade.

According to the researchers, Bsal is similar to Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bd) is blamed for the death of 200 amphibian species

 “This fungus is much worse. Bsal is an acute infection that just turns them into little masses of slime in three to four days,” said David Wake, a UC Berkeley biology professor.

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