With a deadly fungus threatening the population of salamanders, experts across the United States are working together to hunt for these amphibians and find out whether the disease has already affected them.

Wildlife officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are partnering to ensure that measures to combat Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) are working.

Bsal is the fungal pathogen that has been proven to be lethal to amphibians all over the world. Earlier this year, the FWS banned the trade and importation transfer of 201 salamander species in order to halt the spread of this fungus.

Although no reports of Bsal have occurred in North America yet, its deadliness to amphibians has left officials on the defensive. They fear that Bsal could be the biggest fungal threat ever since the outbreak of the white-nose syndrome in U.S. bats.

Salamanders' ecological importance has pushed scientists to make the fight against Bsal a significant conservationist work. These amphibians' place in the food chain include results in insect control and reliable nourishment for bigger animals.

Unfortunately, the decline in salamander population has had major effects on climate change and soil quality. And when Bsal arrived in Europe, it resulted in a 96 percent fatality rate among infected salamander species.

An Martel, a Belgian professor from Ghent University, says very few salamanders are left after the devastating wipeout in Europe. Martel first discovered Bsal's impact on Dutch salamanders.

"It has had a huge impact. The populations where the fungus is present are almost gone," says Martel. "We don't find any salamanders anymore."

Dan Ashe, the director of FWS, said in January that because Bsal has the potential to kill all native salamanders in the U.S., they are doing everything in their power to preserve and protect these amphibians.

FWS and USGS will analyze 10,000 individual salamanders across North America, which is home to about one-third of all 655 known species of salamanders. Their goal is to make sure the fungus is not present in any of the local species.

Fortunately, news from research has been good so far. Evan Grant, a biologist for the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, says a national survey of newts, which are relatives of salamanders, is almost complete. About 1,000 salamanders have also been studied so far by the USGS with zero cases of Bsal.

Photo : Matt Reinbold | Flickr

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