An emerging fungal disease similar to that which has led to the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species around the world is now killing salamanders in Europe and could potentially spread to the United States, with disastrous effects, scientists reported Thursday.
Published in the journal Science, an international team of 27 researchers cited the spread of the disease due to “globalization and a lack of biosecurity” and said the importation of the fire-bellied newt in the pet trade with Asia is likely the culprit.
The lead researcher, An Martel of Ghent University in Belgium, said in an interview that both Europe and the United States needed to begin screening amphibians in the pet trade.
“When animals are traded they should be screened,” Dr. Martel said. “It should involve the world.”
Other scientists agreed with this notion. Vance T. Vrendenburg of San Francisco State University, one of the scientists who have shed light on the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species worldwide over the last four decades said, “We need to pay attention to this paper.”
“We need to think about biosecurity not just in terms of humans and food that we eat and crops that we grow,” he said. “We need to think about functioning ecosystems.”
Dr. Vrendenburg is a co-author of a 2008 paper outlining the disappearance of frog species as a prime example of what some scientists say is the sixth extinction, a mass death of species going on now and caused by humans.
The fungal disease killing salamanders and newts, Batrachochytrium salamandriovorans, is in the same genus, and also kills animals by infecting the skin. But this time, said Dr. Vrendenburg, “We found it early enough to have a chance. The Titanic knows there’s an iceberg out there.”
The United States, remains untouched by the infection, has the greatest biodiversity of salamanders in the world, with many species already threatened or endangered. The animals are seldom noticed, but are an integral part of forest and aquatic systems, as both predators and prey.