Wildlife experts in the United States are calling on the federal government to put a stop to the importation of live salamanders into the country in an effort to curb the spread of a skin-eating fungal disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) from decimating local populations in the wild, according to a report carried by The Guardian.
Hundreds of thousands of live salamanders are imported yearly into the US, and experts fear the salamander’s skin-eating pathogen believed to have to have originated in Asia is responsible for the extinction of black-fire and yellow salamanders in the Netherlands, and causing a decline of salamander populations across Europe.
Bsal infection eats away at their skin and eventually destroys the amphibians.
“Our study provides striking evidence that the introduction of Bsal to the US, the world’s salamander biodiversity hotspot, could be devastating,” said Dr. Vance Vredenburg of the University of California, Berkeley. “Because we have caught it early, the US has the opportunity to make a difference and lead the way in implementing conservation action and developing effective responses to wildlife emerging infectious diseases.”
In the study published in the journal Science, the authors requested the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service to enforce the ban immediately. Between 2005 to the present moment, nearly 2 million salamanders have been imported into the US from Hong Kong, China, Japan, and Singapore; with 48% of the world’s 676 salamander species resident in North America.
“They are the most abundant vertebrates in many North American ecosystems, and they are top predators of insects and invertebrates. They are also an important food source for larger predators, such as birds, mammals, and snakes,” Vredenburg said. “So if major losses of salamanders occur, we could experience degradation of healthy ecosystems, which could lead to issues beyond where they occur now.”
Dr. John Wilkinson, science programme manager of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust does not support a ban, but rather tighter controls on importation. “Of course something needs to be done, or it could be a catastrophe. Species allowed in should be captive-bred individuals and any entering the country must be tested for deadly diseases,” he said.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time any individual or group would call for a ban to the importation of live salamanders to the country without any success.
“The potential for bureaucratic delays is very real and worrisome, as Bsal could arrive within the USA any day. Unfortunately the US Fish and Wildlife Service regulatory authority and capacity for addressing wildlife pathogens are weak and barely adequate to the task of stopping Bsal,” said Peter Jenkins, president of the Center for Invasive Species Prevention.