Guest Seminar – Anticipating disease-driven declines in European salamander populations

Mass amphibian declines present a major part of global biodiversity loss. While a complex interplay of environmental threats lies at the basis of this, diseases are considered one of the main factors driving the loss of global amphibian diversity. The pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) caused widespread frog declines in Australia and many other regions, and affected hundreds of species over the past decades. Recently however, a newly discovered and closely-related pathogen, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), caused major population crashes in European salamander populations, and has been signaled as a major threat to global salamander diversity.

Jesse’s PhD research draws on a multidisciplinary approach to gain a better understanding of the prolonged effects of Bsal on wild salamander populations, focusing on fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra), an iconic and highly susceptible European species. Based on both novel and citizen-science monitoring data, as well as demographic, spatial and genetic comparisons, he studied how natural salamander populations might respond following initial mass declines. Further studies focused on identifying the environmental mechanisms that drive the distribution of Bsal across the European landscape and using a modeling framework to predict its future spread.


About the speaker

Jesse Erens is a biologist from the Netherlands whose work is broadly aimed at contributing to the conservation of biodiversity. With his research, he hopes to increase our understanding of the way species and populations respond to short and long-term environmental changes to aid in their preservation. Based at the Wildlife Health Ghent research group at Ghent University in Belgium, he is presently visiting ANU to study frog disease dynamics and population persistence in the Australian Alps and lowland environs in collaboration with Dr. Ben Scheele.

Jesse is a graduate from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where he obtained both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in biology, while he gained his first experience with amphibian chytrid research as a guest student at UC Berkeley in the US. Following his graduation, he spent several years working as a herpetologist for conservation organizations conducting biodiversity studies in imperiled tropical ecosystems. In his spare time, Jesse was the co-founder and organizer of a vegan pop-up restaurant, enjoys making obscure music, and is an associate editor for the journal Herpetology Notes.