Task Force Looks at Diseases in Amphibians, Reptiles

May 30, 2015 / Comparative Biosciences News / General News

blue-gloved hands hold a frog and wipe its yellow belly with a swab to diagnose diseases in ampibians

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), a North American conservation network devoted to amphibians and reptiles and their habitats, recently formed a task force to coordinate response to disease outbreaks impacting those species. Matt Allender, DVM, PhD, of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, along with Matt Gray, PhD, from the University of Tennessee, co-chair the team of biologists, veterinarians, and wildlife managers working in government agencies, private organizations, universities, and zoos throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

[Matt Allender examines two slides]

At the University of Illinois, Dr. Matt Allender is director of the Wildlife Epidemiology Laboratory, which monitors the health status of box turtles in East Central Illinois, among many other projects.

The purpose of the group is to facilitate communication and collaborative response to outbreaks of disease among native herpetofauna: frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, and turtles.

Viruses, fungi, protozoans, bacteria, and parasites have all appeared recently, resulting in the deaths of a few individual animals in some cases and in the loss of entire populations and even species extinction in others. Ranavirus, for example, can kill more than 200,000 tadpoles in 24 hours.

Newly emerged pathogens of concern include Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola (snake fungal disease) in the eastern United States and a new species of chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) in Europe.

PARC leaders say humans are undoubtedly playing a role in the emergence of herpetofaunal pathogens, whether through altering environmental conditions or by transporting pathogens over large distances, where the pathogens infect populations with no previous exposure or immunity. Conserving the health of herpetofaunal populations is fundamental to conserving the integrity and biodiversity of ecosystems.

“Ensuring the health of herpetofaunal populations requires an integrated response and management plan that combines epidemiological knowledge, pathogen surveillance, population monitoring, biomedical diagnostics and intervention strategies,” said Dr. Allender. “Through PARC, this team is uniquely poised to connect the critical pieces and players to make this happen.”

Among the first pathogens the team is addressing is B. salamandrivorans, a type of chytrid fungus that is killing salamanders in Europe, but that is not yet believed to be present in the United States. The group has begun monitoring for that pathogen. It is also developing a national strategic plan that includes guidance on detecting and responding to diseases in wild or captive animals in the United States.

In addition to the co-chairs, task force members include: Michael Adams, U.S. Geological Survey; Kimberly Andrews, University of Georgia; Michelle Christman and Jennifer Ballard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; James Lewis, Amphibian Survival Alliance; Priya Nanjappa, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies/PARC National State Agencies Coordinator; Jenny Powers, U.S. National Park Service; Dede Olson, U.S. Forest Service; Gabriela Parra Olea, National Autonomous University of Mexico; Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Lincoln Park Zoo; Scott Smith, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Craig Stephen, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative; Jen Williams, PARC Federal Agencies Coordinator.

The members of PARC include individuals from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, museums, pet trade industry, nature centers, zoos, energy industry, universities, herpetological organizations, research laboratories, forest industries, and environmental consultants.