Understanding the adaptation of emerging infectious diseases to novel environments: can Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans evolve fast enough to establish maintenance in European amphibian communities?

01 October 2018 → 15 October 2022
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Immunology
    • Immunology
    • Microbiology
    • Immunology
infectious disease
Project description

The recent globalisation of travel and trade has increased the international spread of diseases into
naïve ecosystems, with often-disastrous consequences. This was seen in the current European
outbreak of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, an Asian amphibian pathogen, which has
decimated populations of fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra). Seven years on from its
introduction, with few susceptible populations remaining in outbreak areas, conservationists are
considering reintroducing the few rescued individuals back into these regions. As knowledge of the
potential of B. salamandrivorans to adapt to European communities is vital to predicting the
success of reintroduction efforts, I propose an interdisciplinary approach to elucidate the
underlying mechanisms, extent and timeframe over which B. salamandrivorans can and has
adapted to European amphibian communities. Specifically, I will combine community infection
trials, field data and laboratory trials with bioinformatic techniques to assess i) how B.
salamandrivorans has evolved during the current outbreak in terms of virulence, host range and the associated genomic changes, and ii) how amphibian communities (i.e. in the presence or
absence of certain species) drives its evolution. Together this will dramatically improve our
understanding of how novel pathogens evolve in new ecosystems, and of the conservation
prospects of European salamander populations.