Asymptomatic infection of the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in captivity
One of the most important factors driving amphibian declines worldwide is the infectious disease, chytridiomycosis. Two fungi have been associated with this disease, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans (Bsal). The latter has recently driven Salamandra salamandra populations to extirpation in parts of the Netherlands, and Belgium, and potentially also in Germany. Bsal has been detected in the pet trade, which has been hypothesized to be the pathway by which it reached Europe, and which may continuously contribute to its spread. In the present study, 918 amphibians belonging to 20 captive collections in Germany and Sweden were sampled to explore the extent of Bsal presence in captivity. The fungus was detected by quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) in ten collections, nine of which lacked clinical symptoms. 23 positives were confirmed by independent processing of duplicate swabs, which were analysed in a separate laboratory, and/or by sequencing ITS and 28 S gene segments. These asymptomatic positives highlight the possibility of Bsal being widespread in captive collections, and is of high conservation concern. This finding may increase the likelihood of the pathogen being introduced from captivity into the wild, and calls for according biosecurity measures. The detection of Bsal-positive alive specimens of the hyper-susceptible fire salamander could indicate the existence of a less aggressive Bsal variant or the importance of environmental conditions for infection progression.