A fungus is attacking fire salamanders and could wreak havoc if it gets to North America

Until recently, the Bunderbos was the best place in the Netherlands to find fire salamanders. With tall broadleaf trees shading small streams, the small forest was home to thousands of the 20-centimeter-long creatures, glistening black with bright yellow spots. "It's a very charismatic animal," says Annemarieke Spitzen-van der Sluijs, a conservation biologist with Reptile, Amphibian & Fish Conservation Netherlands (RAVON), a nonprofit group based in Nijmegen. "It's like a dolphin among amphibians, always smiling, with pretty eyes."

But starting around 2008, the population in the Bunderbos began to plummet for no apparent reason. When Frank Pasmans and An Martel, veterinarians here at Ghent University, heard about the enigmatic deaths, they recalled extinctions caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a highly lethal fungus that infects more than 700 species of amphibian. Yet tests for Bd at their lab were negative.

The declines became so alarming that RAVON removed 39 fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) from the park, safe-guarding them temporarily in an employee's basement. When these animals began to die as well, Spitzen-van der Sluijs rushed them here, about 2 hours away, where Martel and Pasmans cultured a fungus from a salamander clinging to life. It was a new pathogen, related to Bd. They named it B. salamandrivorans (Bsal) for the ulcers that voraciously eat away at the animals' skin.

Source: Science Magazine, July 19, 2017