Apparent absence of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans in wild urodeles in the United Kingdom.
Whether an infectious disease threat to wildlife arises from pathogen introduction or the increased incidence of an already-present agent informs mitigation policy and actions. The prior absence of a pathogen can be difficult to establish, particularly in free-living wildlife. Subsequent to the epidemic emergence of the fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), in mainland Europe in 2010 and prior to its detection in captive amphibians in the United Kingdom (UK), we tested archived skin swabs using a Bsal-specific qPCR. These samples had been collected in 2011 from 2409 wild newts from ponds across the UK. All swabs were negative for Bsal. Bayesian hierarchical modelling suggests that Bsal was absent from, or present at very low levels in, these ponds at the time of sampling. Additionally, surveillance of newt mortality incidents, 2013-2017, failed to detect Bsal. As this pathogen has been shown to be widespread in British captive amphibian collections, there is an urgent need to raise awareness of the importance of effective biosecurity measures, especially amongst people with captive amphibians, to help minimise the risk of Bsal spreading to the wild. Continued and heightened wild amphibian disease surveillance is a priority to provide an early warning system for potential incursion events.