On the hunt for a silent salamander-killer

It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack — except the needle is invisible and the hay stretches for thousands of miles. Oh, and there may not actually be a needle at all. Such is the hunt for the salamander-killing fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in the United States. Its spherical spores, which feed on salamanders’ skin, are too small to see without a microscope. And they could be in any corner of the country; while known outbreaks of the pathogen remain isolated in Europe, research indicates that so-called Bsal is spreading through the international pet trade. Most Bsal researchers believe it’s only a matter of time until the emergent pathogen invades North America. And when it arrives, minimizing the impact on U.S. salamanders will hinge on early detection, they say. The longer the pathogen lingers surreptitiously, the further it will spread, and the more species it will infect and ultimately kill as a result. And so scientists have been out searching in droves. Hundreds of regions have been tested. Thousands of salamanders have been scanned for infection. Now even the public is involved. But are these efforts sufficient to find the pathogen before a catastrophic die-off gets underway? A familiar fungus The threat of Bsal is a painful déjà vu for amphibian biologists, who for decades have been battling its closest relative, Bd (also known as chytrid fungus), which is implicated in the decline or extinction of some 200 species of frogs. This dead frog found in Panama has characteristic…

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South Africa Today – Environment

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