|Henry's Illustration of the bolitoglossine salamander: Bolitoglossa pesrubra|
Amphibians are the most endangered vertebrate taxa with ~18% of species being listed as endangered or critically endangered. Emergent infectious diseases pose a serious threat to global amphibian conservation, having already decimated populations across the world. Discovered in 2013 after causing enormous declines in Dutch salamander populations, the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (a.k.a. Bsal or salamander chytrid) presents a grave new danger. Having been introduced to Europe from East Asia, likely through the pet trade, Bsal has not been detected outside of Europe or Asia. However, it’s a matter of WHEN not IF it spreads to other parts of the world.
The introduction of Bsal to the Western Hemisphere could be disastrous: the Americas hold the most diverse salamander communities in the world. In particular, Costa Rica holds the 5th most diverse salamander community and the country’s enormous ecotourism industry and pet trade, which have both been implicated in the movement of pathogens in the past, put it at significant risk of Bsal introduction. Unlike in the United States, no research or management efforts have been put in place to curtail the impact of Bsal in Costa Rica. But, in this situation conservationists are still given a rare chance to be proactive in establishing research and management efforts to try and mitigate the negative impact of this fungus.
Henry Adams, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, is developing a project aimed at investigating and mitigating the potential impacts of Bsal on Costa Rican salamanders. He is currently crowd funding for a subsection of his overall research project. For his campaign, he has two primary research objectives: 1) to survey for Bsal in wild Costa Rican salamanders, which could allow for early detection of the pathogen. And 2) to test the susceptibility of a Costa Rican salamander species, Bolitoglossa pesrubra to Bsal. He wants to test this species first because the environmental conditions in nearly 70% of its range would allow for the growth of highly pathogenic Bsal, making B. pesrubra a species of conservation concern. Susceptibility can vary across species: some species may succumb to disease quickly and some may be able to persist with an infection for longer periods of time. This changes an animal’s ability to move a pathogen across a landscape. Because of this, understanding susceptibility is important to developing the most informed conservation management strategies possible. Henry hopes to combine this preliminary research with further, long term surveillance, susceptibility trials for more species, and outreach initiatives that target educating about amphibian diseases and conservation.
Henry has been an amphibian conservation enthusiast since an early age, having grown up looking for and studying herps and making homemade nature documentaries. He worked with the Atlanta Amphibian Foundation when it existed at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and had the pleasure to work with, photograph, and illustrate many of the program’s endangered amphibians, including Toughie the Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog. After graduating from the Odum School of Ecology with his BS in 2015 and working as a research technician at UGA for two years, Henry developed this Costa Rican salamander project with his long time friend and mentor, Dr. Sonia Hernandez. Their shared passions for disease ecology, conservation, and Costa Rican biodiversity gave rise to this project, for which Henry has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. While this fellowship does aid in Henry’s graduate education, alone it isn’t enough to fund his research. For this reason Henry has developed his crowd funding campaign to help finance some of the initial aspects of his research. If you are able to donate to and share this project with your friends and family, Henry, and his salamanders, would be enormously grateful.