Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have been checking to see whether an import moratorium on possible carriers of a deadly disease will have time to protect American salamanders. The spotted salamander, seen here, is native to the eastern United States. ( Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute )

An import moratorium, a kind of virtual wall, put in place last last year to protect America’s salamanders from the scourge of possible disease seems to be working, according to a Smithsonian Institution report.

In essence, the report ,based on swabs taken from of the skin of pet salamanders, appears to show that the import curbs may have been imposed in time to keep America free of a deadly fungal ailment that has afflicted salamanders elsewhere.

A study published Friday by scientists with the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) , cited a 98.4 percent cut in imports of 201 salamander species that could be carrying the disease.

Based on the report, it appears that the ban may help shield America’s salamanders, regarded as ecologically important, from the pathogen, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). The disease it causes has proved pernicious elsewhere. The pathogen has been detected in the wild in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Vietnam, as well as in in captive individuals in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Absence of the ailment among U.S. pet salamanders was demonstrated, according to the scientists, by a mail-in survey.

With the aid of the Amphibian Survival Alliance , the Smithsonian said, a mailing went out to salamander owners.in te United States. The material sent included a sampling kit and a video showing how to use it. The scentists said they got back 639 samples from 65 salamander species. None, they said, showed evidence of the disease.

The new study is regarded as a counterpart to SCBI’s continuing test of salamander’s in the wild, the Smithsonian said. It said those tests have shown that wild salamanders also to be free of the pathogen.

Salamanders are particularly abundant in the eastern United States. The country has 190 native species.

Brian Gratwicke, SCBI amphibian conservation biologist and a senior author of the paper said the study “ is good news for native salamanders, especially in the Appalachian region—a salamander biodiversity hotspot.”

“Salamanders play a key role in maintaining the health of our forests and may even help regulate climate,” said Carly Muletz-Wolz, an SCBI research scientist who was one of the co authors of the new paper.

“If Bsal were to hitch a ride to the eastern United States specifically, where salamanders are particularly abundant, it could spread quickly and result in catastrophic changes to the ecosystems,” she said.

“ It is imperative that we do all we can to prevent the introduction of Bsal into the country and that we continue to monitor our wild populations so we can take swift action if needed, she added.

Meanwhile the study appeared to indicate that at least for salamanders, the system may be working. And it also suggests a possible area of American exceptionalism: freedom from a malign amphibian pathogen.

The paper’s lead author, according to the Smithsonian was Blake Klocke, a doctoral student at George Mason University’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy doctoral student who did research with SCBI. Other authors, the Smithsonian said, were Matthew Becker and Robert Fleischer, of the SCBI; James Lewis, of the Rainforest Trust; and Larry Rockwood and A. Alonso Aguirre, of George Mason University.