Collaborative Research: Linking Host Life History, Movement Ecology, and Climate to Predict Epizootics in Megadiverse Tropical Amphibian Communities

Project: Research project

Project Details


Understanding the spread of diseases in wildlife communities is fundamental to the field of ecology and to predicting the stability of animal populations in an era of global change. This research focuses on one of the most successful pathogens of vertebrates - a skin fungus that is lethal to hundreds of amphibian species - to resolve how generalist pathogens cross habitat and host species boundaries, at times impacting entire ecosystems and watersheds. The project is global in scope, with field sites in three megadiverse tropical frog communities in Brazil, Peru, and Cameroon. By advancing disease transmission theory for diverse wildlife communities, this research will provide novel insights into impacts of emerging diseases and increase our capacity to forecast and respond to disease outbreaks. The researchers will work with the multimedia magazine bioGraphic to produce a video story detailing the motivation and progress of the team's research in Brazil, with an expected reach of > 1 million views. The researchers will also work with the education department at the California Academy of Sciences to develop and disseminate an introductory video, lesson plan, and interactive game for K-12 audiences that teach the concepts of host-pathogen dynamics and showcase the tools scientists use to study and model these systems. The projected reach is 35,000 K-12 teachers per year.

Our three-tiered research approach includes 1) field surveys spanning the old world and new world tropics to assess infection patterns in diverse amphibian communities across space and time, 2) a field experiment to isolate the effects of climatic variability on amphibian community structure and disease risk, and 3) novel methods of disease modelling that integrate observational and experimental data to forecast disease dynamics and population demographics at the community scale. A cornerstone of our integrative approach is to examine the disease dynamics of fully terrestrial amphibians. This guild of tropical frogs has been experiencing cryptic population declines and extinctions ostensibly linked to disease, droughts, shifts in host behavior, spatial aggregation, and pathogen spillover. The field survey component will compare spatiotemporal disease dynamics among co-occurring terrestrial-breeding and aquatic-breeding amphibian species, focusing on divergent host movement patterns and responses to climatic variability. The experiment in Brazil will manipulate rainfall variability in large-scale field enclosures to test hypotheses on host movement patterns and infection dynamics of terrestrial- and aquatic-breeding leaf litter frogs. Field surveys and experimental data will be integrated within a multi-host disease modeling framework. This framework will apply recently developed N-mixture models accounting for imperfect host and pathogen detection, together with a Bayesian population viability analysis, to predict long-term host population stability exposed to pathogens under future climate scenarios.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date12/1/206/30/22


  • National Science Foundation: $437,073.00


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