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Deadly infection threatens Europes salamanders
© William Warby

Deadly infection threatens Europe’s salamanders

20/04/17Science & Technology

According to scientists, urgent action is needed to protect wild salamanders in Europe from a deadly infection.

The disease may end up wiping out all vulnerable species, with zoos and gene banks the only conservation option, they warn.

A fungal infection introduced to northern Europe several years ago behaves as a “perfect storm”, say experts.

It persists in the environment and may be spread by newts and birds.

The fungus, known as B. salamandrivorans, or Bsal, killed almost all fire salamanders in an outbreak in the Netherlands in 2014.

Researchers led by Dr An Martel of Ghent University in Belgium are calling for urgent monitoring across Europe.

However, they say that there are few options to prevent the disease spreading in the wild, meaning conservation efforts should focus on zoos, captive breeding and gene banks.

Commenting on the study, which is published in the journal Nature, Professor Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London, UK, said: “More must be done to try to conserve fire salamanders and other susceptible amphibian species that have restricted ranges and are under direct threat of extinction from Bsal.

“It is currently unclear how Bsal can be combatted in the wild beyond establishing ‘amphibian arks’ to safeguard susceptible species as the infection marches relentlessly onwards.”

Scientists expect local extinctions to occur, but say it will take a long time for the infection to reach populations in southern Europe, such as those in Spain and Portugal.

Fisher said the real danger is for species of salamander that have very restricted ranges. Some, such as Lanza’s alpine salamander and the golden-striped salamander, are on the European Red List of amphibians.