Thursday, 5 September 2013

Fire Salamanders in the Netherlands Wiped Out by Newly Discovered Fungus

Five years ago the Netherlands was home to a small but healthy population of fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra terrestris). That is no longer the case. The first dead salamanders, their bodies lacking any visible signs of injuries, turned up in 2008. More mysteriously dead salamanders appeared in the following years, while field surveys found fewer and fewer live animals. By 2011 the number of fire salamanders in the country had dropped by an astonishing 96 percent.

As scientists raced to find the cause behind this mass mortality they brought 39 fire salamanders into captivity, hoping to save the last of the wild animals before they all disappeared. Even that rescue attempt was too late. Half of the captive salamanders were dead by December 2012.

Scientists with the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre and Ghent University in Belgium tested the dead animals (pdf), hoping to find out what had killed them. They ruled out ranavirus, a disease that causes hemorrhaging organs and skin ulcerations in amphibians. Nor did they find Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the deadly chytrid fungus that has spread throughout the world and put many amphibian species on the path toward extinction. The scientists also looked at environmental factors, such as nitrate concentrations. No known agent or infection could be identified.

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