Initiating surveillance for the pathogenic fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, in highland Costa Rican salamander populations
Adams, H., S. M. Hernandez, M. Yabsley, M. J. Gray, and S. Connelly.  2019.  Wildlife Disease Association Annual International Conference, Tahoe City, CA.

Abstract:
For roughly five decades, emergent infectious diseases have directly contributed to catastrophic declines in global amphibian populations. Now, with 18% of species listed as endangered or critically endangered, amphibians are the most endangered group of vertebrates. Since 2008, the emergent fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), has caused significant population declines in European salamander species, sparking international concern. The emergence of this pathogen has been met with significant proactive political action, surveillance work, and research efforts in Europe, the United States, Canada and Mexico. No such work has been conducted in Costa Rica, a country: 1) rich in salamander species diversity, 2) mountainous habitat suitable for the persistence and increased pathogenicity of Bsal, 3) high likelihood for pathogen pollution from tourist visitation, 4) declining salamander abundance. With a multibillion-dollar ecotourism industry, (~14% from Europe, where Bsal has become a concern), we believe Costa Rica’s salamander community to be at significant risk of Bsal introduction, meriting proactive surveillance and research efforts. Our objective was to initiate surveillance efforts for Bsal within highland salamander populations in the Central and Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica, areas that would be very ecologically suitable for Bsal persistence. We hypothesized that if we found evidence of Bsal it would in regions with heavy tourism. Between November and December of 2018, 42 salamanders representing 3 species (Bolitoglossa subpalamata, B. pesrubra, and Nototriton abscondens) were sampled across multiple sites, including one of Costa Rica’s most visited national parks. Bsal was not detected. Samples were analyzed using PCR at the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. Further surveillance efforts are ongoing. Surveillance results were a specific requirement by the Costa Rican natural resource agency (CONAGEBIO) prior to obtaining a permit to conduct susceptibility trials.