What, Where, How..?
What is Bsal?
It is an introduced chytrid fungus species from eastern Asia, which came to Europe rpopably through animal trade. It causes skin lesions in the European salamanders and newts. In Salamandra salamandra the die-off is extreme and in many cases the populations shrinks of a bar minimum or even die off.
The distribution in Europe is southern Netherlands, Belgium and the Eifel, Ruhr area, Wuppertal an sourronding areas and two sites in Bavaria on German territory - there are also cases from Spain.
How can we help?
Knowledge is one of the most important tools when fighting diseases, so many Universitiy and their scientist across europe and the world focus their research and main power on this topic to find clues that can help to conservate our salamander population from the impact of Bsal. Throught the massive work load its nearly impossible to make the work all by theirselves, the good thing is, they don't have to. Everbody could help them, through reporting the find of death salamanders to your local bsal hotline (see the link at the bottom of this page). Additionally anybody who enjoys hitting the field and search for amphibians and reptiles can/should/must disinfect their shows (further informations also at the bottom of this page). Beside research projects our conservation projects take part for example with maintenance breeding projects to keep the local genetic diversity of populations alive (again have a look downstairs ;-)) Now what do i want with this little story page? There are a lot of good pages which give conclusions on that topic better than I ever could, I want to tell you two little stories from my experience with Bsal to show you how important field hygiene is and how horrible this disease can be.
A dead forest
During my first year in Munich, I didn’t had the time to visit my home state and the main area of Bsal in Germany for a while. During this time the distribution of Bsal in NRW went bigger and bigger. Since I always want to be updated on that topic I talked to friends and colleagues ,which still work on the chytrid, which area is currently infected, and which could be “worth” to visit to find some infected individuals to document the disease and take some data for the universities. Long story short I called my “Bsal investigation team” (Jenny, Paul, Exi and new member Mathilde) and off into the forest. As soon we started the searching in the spring area of the creek, we knew something must be wrong and we were in definitely in an Bsal forest. Best conditions 12 degrees in a heavy raining night and no salamanders, where they are known to occur, the situation was clear. After a couple of hours searching, we finally found two salamanders with heavy lesions. Target found, good for images and story telling bad for the salamanders and the salamander friend’s heart. The coming night still had good conditions for mandering and so we went to the estuary region of the creek. The situation there was somehow the opposite, still healthy-looking individuals and big pregnant females, good news for now. Searching deep in to the night we came to different spot at this creek and at some point the salamander findings became rare and stopped and ended up finding a dead pregnant female.. another end of an expedition with mixed feelings. During one of our many night outs these days we went to an area which had a mass die off the year before and so we were not surprised finding almost nothing. Why almost nothing? Well one female was still found, and she looked healthy and agile.
Why do I tell you these things? Well, I guess it’s a good idea to give you an impression how the mandering in an infected area looks like. Mostly when you search in infected areas where a mass die off already happened, the forest looks dead during a suitable amphibian night. You barely find any adults or subadults. The positive thing is I always found larvae, nevertheless for how long the search for adults were without success, after every breeding period larvae could be found in those areas. So, there is hope for these populations, when the breeding waters enable a full metamorphosis for the offspring. Not a nice perspective when you have climate change in your neck, isn’t it?
The remains of a population
My second experience is even worse. Once upon a time there was a beautiful little Salamandra-population in the hearth of the Ruhr-area which I loved to visit. They had a beautiful little creek to drop their larvae, which always carried water, even in the driest month of dry years. During rainy summer night you could observe male combats, mating’s, and during autumn and spring the ladies used to drop their larvae in the little creek. The density was so high that you could find easily over 150 individuals in a two-hour session. Everything was good. Enough from the miracle hour, the population conditions were close to the optimum, even in a very small area within the huge metropolitan region of the Ruhr area. During my master thesis there were no sign of Bsal in those regions. The problem is that this area was surrounded by infected populations close by and you cannot force people to disinfect your shoes before visiting the woods. So, for sure what we feared and expected to happen happened. Just the month after I left Bochum to live in Munich, the first dead salamanders were observed and a few hundred followed. The good thing was we did a lot of research in that region and a case study was possible. The bad thing was…over 200 Salamanders were found dead or near dead those days. I don’t know if I should be happy or not about the fact that I couldn’t help myself finding and documenting the dead animals, it would have been worth it. The good thing is the scientist Max Schweinsberg, Jonas Virgo and Co. did pick up a lot of animals and let me photograph the preserved individuals so I can give you guys an impression what a die off is.