Stopping the amphibian apocalypse

America’s amphibians, already threatened by one deadly plague, could wind up facing another.

The salamander-killing fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bs, which is spreading in Europe but hasn’t yet reached the U.S., is the subject of the next Environmental Professionals Network breakfast program at The Ohio State University.

Joe Mendelson, Zoo Atlanta’s research director, and Joe Greathouse, director of conservation science at the Wilds in eastern Ohio, are presenting “Stopping the Next Amphibian Apocalypse: Saving America’s Salamanders” from 7:15-9:20 a.m. April 9 in the Agricultural Administration Building auditorium, 2120 Fyffe Road, Columbus.

Barbara Wolfe, DVM, chief science officer with the Wilds and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, will moderate the discussion. She also holds appointments in Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Scientists think Bs reached Europe from Asia through the pet trade.

In Asia, salamanders carry Bs but don’t get sick from it. But in Europe, it kills 96% of infected salamanders. The fungus has been fatal, too, to U.S. salamanders in lab tests.

If Bs reaches America, Mendelson and Karen Lips of the University of Maryland wrote in a 2014 New York Times op-ed, “it is likely to spread across the country, as it appears to be doing in Europe, with catastrophic consequences. The continental United States has more species of salamanders than any other place on earth.”

The presentation will cover, among other things, suggested steps to stop the fungus, such as proposed Congressional action banning live salamander imports for the pet trade.

The recent case of a similar fungus suggests the need for fast action, Mendelson and Lips wrote in their op-ed.

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also called Bd or the amphibian chytrid fungus, is already killing frogs, toads, salamanders and newts in many places around the world, including the United States and Canada, causing major population declines and the extinction of many species.

Bd “had spread widely before scientists even detected what was happening,” Mendelson and Lips wrote. “Once we did, it was too late. Watching those die-offs has left biologists like ourselves feeling at times more like paleontologists.”

In all, North America is home to at least 150 salamander species, almost a quarter of the world’s total. Some 24 of them are found in Ohio.

Registration for the program is $10 by cash or check, $15 by credit card, and includes breakfast. Find details and links to online registration at go.osu.edu/zpX.

Registration is open to both members and nonmembers of the network. The registration deadline is April 7.

For more information, contact EPN Coordinator David Hanselmann at hanselmann.3@osu.edu or 614-247-1908.

Sponsors of the presentation are Ohio State’s Environmental Sciences Network and MAD Scientist & Associates LLC of Westerville.

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