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Hellbender salamander study seeks answers for global amphibian decline
Date:12/19/2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers on the endangered Ozark Hellbender giant salamander is the first to detail its skin microbes, the bacteria and fungi that defend against pathogens.

Published today in the online journal PLoS One, the study details changes in the salamander's declining health and habitat, and could provide a baseline for how changing ecosystems are affecting the rapid decline of amphibians worldwide.

"Scientists and biologists view amphibians as kind of a 'canary in the coal mine' and their health is often used as a barometer for overall ecosystem health, including potential problems that may affect humans," said study co-author Max Nickerson, herpetology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

More than 2 feet long, the Ozark Hellbender is the one of largest salamander species in the United States. Its unusual biological characteristics include the ability to regenerate injured or missing body parts.

In the new study, lead author Cheryl Nickerson, a professor at Arizona State University, along with NASA and UF scientists, cultured and identified microorganisms from abnormal and injured tissue on the salamanders searching for pathogens that may be causing the lack of regeneration and population decline.

The researchers found several potentially dangerous pathogens, including Aeromonas hydrophila, a bacterium scientists believe is associated with disease and death in both amphibians and fish.

While many different pathogens were found in the injured tissue, no single organism was found to be responsible for the lack of regeneration. Researchers believe the occurrence of abnormalities and injury in the Ozark Hellbender may have many contributing factors, including disease and habitat degradation, and say further study is needed

"If you don't understand an amphibian's skin you don't understand the amphibian
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Contact: Max Nickerson
maxn@flmh.ufl.edu
352-219-7157
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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