Breaking the silence after the storm: the amphibian response to an emerging infectious disease

01 October 2018 → 30 September 2022
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Animal biology
  • Agricultural and food sciences
    • Veterinary medicine
    • Other veterinary sciences
    • Other agricultural, veterinary and food sciences
infectious disease
Project description

Counteracting the loss of biodiversity presents one of the defining challenges of our time.
Amphibian declines have become iconic of global extinctions, and two lethal pathogenic chytrid
fungi - Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and B. salamandrivorans (Bsal) - are implicated among
the main factors driving their demise. The former caused extensive extirpations in frogs, but the
latter emerged recently and is currently causing unprecedented die-offs in European fire
salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) after invasion from east Asia, with the potential to
decimate worldwide salamander diversity. In the known outbreak sites, a tiny proportion of
individuals persists. Understanding the mechanisms of adaptation that allow extant populations to
persist after pathogen invasion is key to design conservation measures. Here, we propose an
integrative gene-to-ecosystem study to examine the factors underpinning salamander persistence,
linking host genetic, phenotypic and ecological differentiation through analyses of RNA sequence
and expression data, skin defenses and spatial population structure. Furthermore, we will develop
and apply a new genotyping assay for Bsal to map its diversity and frame results in the genetic
context of the pathogen, and present a direct resource for efficient global monitoring of the
disease. These objectives each address outstanding questions on Bsal host-pathogen evolution,
but together provide a comprehensive account of salamander adaptability.