Drivers of salamander extirpation mediated byBatrachochytrium salamandrivorans

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Abstract

The recent arrival ofBatrachochytrium salamandrivoransin Europe was followed by rapid expansion of its geographical distribution and host range, confirming the unprecedented threat that this chytrid fungus poses to western Palaearctic amphibians1,2. Mitigating this hazard requires a thorough understanding of the pathogen’s disease ecology that is driving the extinction process. Here, we monitored infection, disease and host population dynamics in a Belgian fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) population for two years immediately after the first signs of infection. We show that arrival of this chytrid is associated with rapid population collapse without any sign of recovery, largely due to lack of increased resistance in the surviving salamanders and a demographic shift that prevents compensation for mortality. The pathogen adopts a dual transmission strategy, with environmentally resistant non-motile spores in addition to the motile spores identified in its sister speciesB. dendrobatidis. The fungus retains its virulence not only in water and soil, but also in anurans and less susceptible urodelan species that function as infection reservoirs. The combined characteristics of the disease ecology suggest that further expansion of this fungus will behave as a ‘perfect storm’ that is able to rapidly extirpate highly susceptible salamander populations across Europe.

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