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Posts Tagged ‘salamander’

I’m hearing more and more these days about “good bacteria,” including in a song by singer-composer Will McMillan on the friendly bacteria we humans carry around.

Now, it seems, bacteria found in soil may help to save amphibians from dangerous fungal epidemics. Public Radio International’s environmental news program, Living on Earth, has the story.

“Around the world, fungal diseases have been killing millions of frogs and bats and snakes. And a newly emerging disease in salamanders in Europe is scaring biologists here, so the US Fish and Wildlife Service has introduced a ban on their import to try to protect amphibians in the US.

“But now scientists see some hope in soil bacteria that get onto the salamanders and frogs and apparently protect them. Doug Woodhams is an assistant professor of biology at UMass Boston, who’s been working with amphibians in Panama – and he explained what his team has found to Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer.

“WOODHAMS: Some of the amphibians have beneficial bacteria that live on their skin and these have antifungal properties.

“PALMER: This is kind of like having good bacteria in your gut, for instance, that stop you from getting sick. … Is there any evidence that  good bacteria actually work against devastating funguses?

“WOODHAMS: Yeah, there’s quite a bit of evidence. Many of the bacteria that we can culture from some amphibian species are able to inhibit the fungus in culture. We also have some population-level data that shows populations that tend to have these antifungal bacteria can persist with Bd in the environment and survive. …

“Bd is the chytrid fungus that’s been spreading around the world and devastating amphibian populations. So salamanders, frogs, toads. Populations that tend to have more of these beneficial bacteria seem to be surviving, and populations that don’t have as many of the individuals that have these bacteria seem to disappear. …

“The next thing we want to try is adding some of these bacteria, not just to petri dishes, but to soil and see if infected amphibians can be cleared of their infection by being housed on soil that’s been inoculated with these bacteria. …

“There are other fungal pathogens, so it could be something that you could apply in a cave that could reduce White-nosed syndrome [in bats]. Also, rattlesnakes have been recently affected by fungal disease during hibernation, so it could be applied into a rattlesnake den.”

More on the science here.

Photo: Matt Becker
The Appalachian Mountains are home to this Cow Knob Salamander, Plethodon punctatus, from George Washington National Forest, Virginia.

 

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I used to love finding little red salamanders when I was a child.

I didn’t know they played an important role in the ecosystem, even balancing out processes that contribute to climate change. Of course, when I was a child, nobody talked about ecosystems or climate change. But I’m glad to learn salamanders are important. Small things often are.

Writes Richard Conniff in the NY Times, “According to a new study in the journal Ecosphere, salamanders play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. …

“The study — by Hartwell H. Welsh Jr., a herpetologist at the United States Forest Service’s research station in Arcata, Calif., and Michael L. Best, now at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif. — notes that salamanders’ prey consists almost entirely of ‘shredding invertebrates,’ bugs that spend their lives ripping leaves to little bits and eating them.

“Leaf litter from deciduous trees is on average 47.5 percent carbon, which tends to be released into the atmosphere, along with methane, when the shredding invertebrates shred and eat them.

“If there aren’t as many shredders at work and the leaves remain in place, uneaten, they are covered by other leaves. … The anaerobic environment under those layers preserves the carbon until it can be captured by the soil, a process called humification.

“At least in theory, having more salamanders in a forest should mean fewer shredding invertebrates and more carbon safely locked underground.”

Read how they tested their theory, here.

 Photo: Todd W. Pierson/University of Georgia

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