Severe infectious diseases of wildlife are on the increase mainly due to the globalization of trade leading to increased mobility of pathogens, including invasive alien species. These epidemics are a serious threat to biodiversity and result in the degradation of ecosystem functioning.
Research by the BiodivERsA-funded RACE project on the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has caused population declines and extinction in amphibians worldwide, brings evidence of this threat in Europe. The results of the study suggest that the Bd fungus is implicated in the decline of many European amphibian species. Some species have suffered extensive mortality leading to a significant decline of their natural populations. Examples are found on mainland Spain and Portugal (Common Midwife Toads and Fire Salamanders), on the island of Mallorca (e.g. Mallorcan Midwife Toad) and on Sardinia (Tyrrhenian Painted Frog). The study has shown that the Bd is now present in more than 17 EU and affiliated countries like French Guiana.
The movement of amphibians between continents mainly for trade purposes is one of the major causes for Bd spread worldwide. The global amphibian trade moves millions of frogs annually for a variety of purposes, such as food, animal pets and biomedical research. Read the BiodivERsA Policy Brief for more detailed information.
The alarming data revealed by the RACE project show that action against the spread of wildlife diseases affecting species is needed to halt biodiversity loss by 2020, as called for by the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
Several EU policies (wildlife trade, invasive species and animal health) and better coordination of measures among them could contribute to addressing the problem and help reach the 2020 targets. For example, species carrying diseases should be further studied in order to evaluate their addition to the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations which lists species whose conservation status may be threatened by trade and species which, if introduced, could pose an ecological threat to European native species. Moreover, the upcoming EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species should be aligned with existing measures, such as on wildlife trade. As additional steps, wildlife diseases should be better reflected in reporting on the conservation status of species under the EU Habitats Directive, in which species that need conservation measures are listed.