Monday 30 May 2016

Saving north america's salamanders, newts

Date: May 30, 2016
Source: University of Saskatchewan

The fate of the world's richest biodiversity of salamanders and newts is in the hands of pet owners across North America, said Natacha Hogan, an environmental toxicologist specializing in amphibians at the University of Saskatchewan.

At issue is salamander chytrid disease, caused by a fungus that infects both salamanders and newts with near total lethality. The fungus, known as B.sal, infects the skin, causing wart-like lesions. As the disease progresses, the animal stops eating, becomes lethargic, loses control of its body movements and eventually dies.

Originally from Asia, the disease has completely wiped out wild populations where it has appeared in Europe and the UK, said Hogan.

"It's basically the pet trade," she said. "It's when you start moving salamanders; this is what this spread has been attributed to. There have been millions of salamanders imported -- how many kids own fire belly newts from a pet store?"

While the fungus has not yet been spotted in Canada, she said the U.S. has already instituted strict regulations on trade in salamanders and newts.

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) is leading efforts to raise the alarm, urging immediate action. The group compares the threat to a similar invasive fungal disease that all but wiped out entire species of frogs in South and Central America, and white nose disease, which has killed entire colonies of bats -- millions of animals -- across North America, including Canada.

While Canada has only two species of newt -- both in Ontario -- salamanders are wide spread, Hogan said, with about 15 species across the country. Some of these have a small geographic range, but others, such as the two species of tiger salamander found in Saskatchewan, can be found right across the Prairie Provinces.

The rest of North America is even more richly endowed.

"The U.S. has among the greatest biodiversity of amphibians in the world, so this is also true of salamanders and newts," Hogan said.

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