A skin-eating fungus that infiltrated Europe through the global wildlife trade is threatening the continent's native salamanders, including extinction of whole species, and could do the same in North America, scientists say. An international research team said on Thursday the fungus, first detected in Europe last year, has killed salamanders in the Netherlands and Belgium and is expected soon to reach other European nations. They said it is closely related to another fungus that already has wiped out some amphibian species. The scientists have found no sign of the fungus in North American amphibians but worry that it is only a matter of time before it surfaces via a pet trade that has funneled millions of Chinese fire belly newts to the United States.
The researchers tracked the origins and geographical presence of the fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, by examining about 5,400 samples accounting for about 150 varieties of amphibians in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. They also exposed 35 amphibian species to the fungus to learn which were vulnerable. The study, published in the journal Science, found it can kill numerous kinds of salamanders and newts, a subgroup of the salamander family, but not other amphibians including frogs, toads and snake-like caecilians. The fungus was discovered by scientists probing a die-off of fire salamanders in the Netherlands.