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Testing Underway To Prevent Spread Of Salamander Fungus

Jane Lindholm
Red spotted newts, like this one in Hinesburg, are threatened by a fungus that has decimated salamander populations in Europe.

The United States is home to the greatest biodiversity of salamanders in the world – in fact, at least 150 species live north of Mexico. But the population may be under threat because a deadly fungus has ravaged some salamander populations in Europe. It's a fungus that could easily travel to North America.

That's led to a kind of medical check-up for salamanders nationwide in the United States. A team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, including wildlife biologist Evan Grant, are working to identify any signs that the fungus has made its way across the pond.

"We're looking for evidence of salamander chytrid fungus in wild populations of the red spotted newt," Grant said. He's coordinating research across the northeastern U.S. So far, 80 sites have been visited this year, including one in Sunderland, Vermont.

The fungus was first identified in Europe.

"In populations of the fire salamander where they first detected this, they've seen declines of 99 percent in some ponds. The disease has been spreading since they first detected it. There's a pretty concerted effort over there also to survey populations," Grant said.

The fungus has been detected in captive trade in salamanders for pets from Asia, which is where the fungus originated.

"We're worried about it entering the U.S. by the same mechanism," Grant said. This January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restricted the movement of over 200 species of salamanders, which should slow the movement of the fungus.

So far, the testing has not detected the fungus in the U.S., but scientists did find the frog version of the fungus.

"Introduction of the salamander chytrid fungus here is bad news for U.S. amphibians, but also bad news for global salamander biodiversity." - Evan Grant, U.S. Geological Survey

"Frog populations have declined across the world. There have been some extinctions attributed to the frog chytrid fungus," Grant said, and the salamander fungus is closely related. "Introduction of the salamander chytrid fungus here is bad news for U.S. amphibians, but also bad news for global salamander biodiversity."

There are no effective options for treating the fungus, so the testing is aimed at finding the fungus and containing so it does not spread if found.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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