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German Journal of Herpetology

Schulz, V., A. Schulz, M. Klamke, K. Preissler, J. Sabino-Pinto, M. Müsken, M. Schlüpmann, L. Heldt, F. Kamprad, J. Enss, M. Schweinsberg, J. Virgo, H. Rau, M. Veith, S. Lötters, N. Wagner, S. Steinfartz & M. Vences

In Issues 2020

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in the Ruhr District, Germany: history, distribution, decline dynamics and disease symptoms of the salamander plague. pp. 189-214 plus Supplementary documents.

Abstract. The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), recently introduced from Asia to Europe, causes mortality in numerous species of salamanders and newts and has led to catastrophic declines and local extinctions of the European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Due to the continuous spread of the pathogen, Germany can be considered as the current ‘hotspot’ of Bsal-driven salamander declines. The pathogen was detected in 2015 in the Eifel Mountains where it probably has been present at least since 2004. Moreover, Bsal was found in 2017 in the Ruhr District where it also might occur since 2004. The Ruhr District is a heavily urbanized and industrialized region in western Germany, which offers an unprecedented opportunity to monitor range expansion and infection dynamics of Bsal in an area affected by intense human activities. We here review the current knowledge on Bsal in the Ruhr District where the pathogen by now has been recorded based on qPCR data from 18 sites distributed over eight cities. Transect counts (adult salamanders) and larval removal-sampling at two sites where Bsal was recorded in 2017 and 2018, confirm that fire salamander populations at the affected sites have declined dramatically. However, single negative-tested individuals were still observed and reproduction could be ascertained. Moreover, we successfully detected Bsal by analysing environmental DNA (eDNA) from samples obtained from a standing water body as well as a stream. Detailed monitoring of a site in Essen (Kruppwald) from January to May 2019 provided data on infection and disease dynamics during an acute Bsal-outbreak in a population of European fire salamanders. After initial observation of single dead infected salamanders in January and February 2019, the maximum Bsal loads in the population ranged from 7.90E+03 ITS copies in early March to 2.29E+09 ITS copies at the end of March. Prevalence of infection ranged from 4% to 50% and significantly increased over time; prevalence of externally visible disease symptoms peaked on May 2 and May 8. Single dead salamanders were encountered throughout the monitoring period. Recaptures of two infected salamanders indicated an increase of Bsal load by about one order of magnitude within one week. Infected salamanders showed small-sized regular round ulcerations usually of 0.25–1 mm but sometimes up to 2.5 mm in diameter, which gave the impression of outward growth from the centre of each ulceration. Among salamander individuals monitored in the Kruppwald, such ulcerations were only found in infected salamanders, but we found no significant correlation between the intensity of the ulcerations and Bsal load. Heat treatment proved effective to cure even deep ulcerations when salamanders were kept for 10 days at 25–27°C or 14 days at 25°C, but infection persisted and ulcerations reappeared six weeks after the end of the treatment; only heat treatment at 25°C for 21 days proved effective to reliably clear the infection in three tested salamanders.

Key words. Amphibia, Caudata, Salamandra salamandra, European fire salamander, Bsal, chytridiomycosis, heat treatment, emerging infectious disease, amphibian disease, eDNA.

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