BERKELEY, Calif., July 30 (UPI) -- Scientists in California have called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately halt salamander imports until there's a concrete plan to detect and isolate the fungus that's decimated amphibians in Europe.
The fungus worrying scientists is Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal); it is the relative of another fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), also known as chytrid, that's shrunk populations of frogs, newts and salamanders across the world -- especially in colder climes.
"This fungus is much worse than the chytrid fungus, which is more like a lingering disease that affects the skin and puts stress on the salamander until it dies," biologist David Wake, an amphibian expert and professor at University of California, Berkeley, said in a press release. "Bsal is an acute infection that just turns them into little masses of slime in three to four days."
Wake is the lead author of a new paper on the fungus threat, published this week in the journal Science.
Bsal has demonstrated a 96 percent fatality rate among wildfire salamanders, the European salamander species most susceptible to the new pathogen. New research suggests, should the fungus makes its way stateside, two American salamanders -- the West Coast's rough-skinned newt and Eastern newt of the East Coast -- would be especially vulnerable to infection.
"There is a lot at stake here if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't stop imports now to prevent the introduction of this devastating pathogen to North America," added co-author Michelle Koo.
Earlier this spring, scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity started an online petition pressuring federal officials to take steps to prevent the fungus from infecting amphibians in the United States.
Researchers say dozens of amphibian species have been erased or pushed to the brink of extinction as a result of the spread of Bd -- never mind the threat of climate change and pollution. Bsal, they say, would only make matters worse.
"Because salamanders are small, often nocturnal and live underground, they are an often overlooked but integral part of the ecosystem," Koo said. "They're frequently the top predator and can make up the majority of the animal biomass of a forest. This fungus puts at risk an important part of a healthy forest."