Project overview: This project funds surveillance and monitoring of an emerging infectious disease that has decimated salamander populations in other wild places, with the goal to protect Yosemite’s salamanders in the long-term.

How your support helps: Yosemite has primarily functioned as a species refugia, but the existential threat of introduced disease has greatly impacted amphibians. A new emerging infectious disease (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans or “Bsal”), very similar to the chytrid fungus that caused quick declines in Yosemite’s Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs, has recently decimated salamander populations in other wild places.

The first known emergence of this pathogen took place in 2013 within multiple European countries. Scientists believe it is only a matter of time until the pathogen makes its way to North America. Unfortunately, North America has the highest predicted threat from Bsal because the area holds the highest salamander biodiversity in the world. In addition, Yosemite is a hub for international wilderness travel and ecological research, placing the park in a position of heightened risk. With donor support, this project funds active monitoring to allow scientists to get ahead and prevent the pathogen’s spread.

Salamanders, who depend on moist habitats, will also be susceptible to the existential threat of climate change. Climate models predict drier conditions, more drought, and less precipitation in the Sierra. Without intervention, drought combined with a Bsal epidemic could cause another spiral towards extinction for Yosemite’s salamanders.

This year: This year you are supporting a proactive approach – learning from our last infectious disease epidemic, and allowing managers to get ahead of a potential catastrophe. The goals are to better understand the presence of Bsal and its impacts on salamander species in the park, including but not limited to the Mt. Lyell Salamander (Hydromantes platycephalus), which was recently included on a “watch list” in recent work outlining California species of special concern.

Project partners: Yosemite National Park

Carson Lillard

Aquatic Wildlife Biologist, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“Bsal is an emerging pathogen with the capability to cause major declines or even wipe out salamander species entirely. Our project would provide testing surveillance to monitor for the disease in salamander species here.”