North America’s salamanders could soon face an apocalypse from a pathogen making its way here through the pet trade.

But who’s leading the charge to protect them through quick action? Researchers from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

In a recently published article in Science Tiffany Yap, doctoral student in environmental science and engineering and Richard Ambrose, professor of environmental health sciences, report that a newly described fungal pathogen endemic to Asia — Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans — could devastate North American salamanders if brought to the continent through the live salamander trade. The pathogen, which is also known as Bsal, is already wiping out some salamander populations in Europe, Ambrose said.

Yap, Ambrose and three co-authors have modeled the regions where North American salamanders will probably be most vulnerable to the pathogen — including close to Los Angeles, one of the continent’s major salamander import centers. Additionally, Yap said that a widescale salamander die off could even contribute to climate change. 

“In a lot of woodland ecosystems in North America, they’re the most abundant vertebrate and also a top predator on the forest floor,” she said. “They eat a lot of insects and other invertebrates that eat leaf litter, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. The salamanders keep these leaf-litter eaters at bay.”

The researchers call for a temporary federal ban on salamander imports to slow the spread of the pathogen has generated publicity from high-profile news outlets like NPR, the New York Times  and Wired.

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