September 6, 2013

Lead poisoning killing loons, necropsies show and more wildlife disease news


Fire Salamanders in the Netherlands Wiped Out by Newly Discovered Fungus

Five years ago the Netherlands was home to a small but healthy population of fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra terrestris). That is no longer the case. The first dead salamanders, their bodies lacking any visible signs of injuries, turned up in 2008. More mysteriously dead salamanders appeared in the following years, while field surveys found fewer and fewer live animals. By 2011 the number of fire salamanders in the country had dropped by an astonishing 96 percent.

... Scientists with the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre and Ghent University in Belgium tested the dead animals (pdf), hoping to find out what had killed them. They ruled out ranavirus, a disease that causes hemorrhaging organs and skin ulcerations in amphibians. Nor did they find Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the deadly chytrid fungus that has spread throughout the world and put many amphibian species on the path toward extinction. The scientists also looked at environmental factors, such as nitrate concentrations. No known agent or infection could be identified.

But now the cause of the fire salamanders’ rapid decline has been revealed. According to a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the fire salamanders in the Netherlands contracted a previously unknown fungus related to Bd, the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis. The paper dubs the new fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans spec. nov. It causes superficial erosions on the salamanders’ skin, followed by deep ulcerations and microscopic skin necrosis. Captive-bred amphibians which the scientists exposed to the fungus died in as little as seven days.

Scientific American
JR Platt
02 Sep 2013
Location: Netherlands - Map It

Cited Journal Article
A Martel et al. Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans sp. nov. causes lethal chytridiomycosis in amphibians. PNAS. 2013 Sep 03; [Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1073/pnas.1307356110

First Estimate of Total Viruses in Mammals

Identifying viruses could help mitigate disease outbreaks; total cost less than a single pandemic

Scientists estimate that there is a minimum of 320,000 viruses in mammals awaiting discovery. Collecting evidence of these viruses, or even a majority of them, they say, could provide information critical to early detection and mitigation of disease outbreaks in humans. This undertaking would cost approximately $6.3 billion, or $1.4 billion if limited to 85% of total viral diversity—a fraction of the economic impact of a major pandemic like SARS.

Columbia University Press Release
03 Sep 2013

Lead poisoning killing loons, necropsies show

Mark Pokras holds up a swab that shows that the fishing
jig removed from a loon tests positive for lead.
A loon was beached on Cobbossee Lake in Winthrop, Maine, a maggot-filled wing wound keeping it from flying or resisting capture from a game warden.

The gash was too deep and the skin around it too decayed to save the agonized, emaciated bird. It was euthanized at an avian clinic in Freedom, Maine.

Enter Mark Pokras, whose job it is to figure out why the bird was disabled in the first place....Pokras has discovered that lead poisoning is the leading cause of premature death in Maine loons, whose haunting wails are a fixture of summer life, their images adorning license plates and trinkets at tourist shops.

Portland Press Herald
02 Sep 2013
M Shepherd

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