SOURCE: The Revelator
DATE: February 27, 2020
SNIP: When Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, emerged in the mid-twentieth century, scientists and conservationists watched helplessly as the fungus swept like a biblical flood through amphibian populations across the planet. Commonly known as chytrid, the disease spread rapidly and crippled nearly every new amphibian species it encountered, exhibiting a particular violence towards frogs and toads. It soon claimed 90 species and affected nearly 500 others.
Chytrid hit so hard and spread so quickly that by the time the public knew what it was around the late 1980s, there was little chance to save many of these affected species. For that reason, some have called Bd an ecological supervillain. Others refer to it as the doomsday fungus. Both monikers, regrettably, tend more toward fact than hyperbole.
Today, we’re on the brink of another outbreak.
As Bd continues its rampage among toads and frogs, a new insidious threat has begun to emerge, this time targeting a different class of amphibians: salamanders. In 2013, scientists described a second species of chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, when it arrived in Europe from Southeast Asia and spread to the vulnerable fire salamanders of the Netherlands. Living at the edge of its geographic range and confined to small populations with low genetic diversity, this species stood as a perfect target for the fungus. In three years, fire salamander numbers declined by 96 percent. The scientific name of the fungus, which means “salamander devourer” in Latin, rang true: It was indeed the devourer of salamanders.
Roughly 20 percent of the world’s salamander species live in the American Southeast. Many of them make their home nowhere else on the planet. The region contains numerous examples of isolated species living in small populations, vulnerable to a quick extinction with any sort of disruption to their health or environment much like the fire salamander. There’s the Pigeon Mountain salamander, for example, endemic to a single mountaintop in the state of Georgia, and the Black Warrior waterdog, found only within the Black Warrior River Basin in Alabama. There’s also the South Mountain gray-cheeked salamander, the Peaks of Otter salamander, the Caddo Mountain salamander — and the list goes on.
[Note: these diseases are transported from one place to another by mud on people’s shoes or livestock hoofs.]