A skin-eating fungal disease brought to Europe by humans now poses a major threat to native salamanders and newts, scientists have warned.
The previously unknown fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was discovered last year by researchers investigating a huge crash in the population of fire salamanders in the Netherlands.
Now the same team have screened over 5,000 amphibians from four continents to ascertain the threat the new disease presents to other species. The results, published in Science, show that B. salamandrivorans is very dangerous to salamanders and newts, but not to frogs, toads and snake-like amphibians called caecilians.
The fungus was found to be present in amphibians from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan as early as 1861, without causing disease, suggesting it originates from East Asia. The fungus probably arrived in Europe recently, and its presence in traded amphibians suggests that the intercontinental movement of amphibians explains its introduction.
So far the disease has only been found in The Netherlands and Belgium, but the researchers say it is likely to reach other European countries soon. The great crested newt, a protected species in Europe and the nearly threatened cave salamander Hydromantes strinatii, are among the species that rapidly die once infected.
The study was led by Professors An Martel and Frank Pasmans at Ghent University in collaboration with an international team of scientists.
Read the full news release HERE