Disease Risk in Temperate Amphibian Populations Is Higher at Closed-Canopy Sites

C. Guilherme Becker, David Rodriguez, Ana V. Longo, Amanda L. Talaba, Kelly R. Zamudio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations

Abstract

Habitat loss and chytridiomycosis (a disease caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis - Bd) are major drivers of amphibian declines worldwide. Habitat loss regulates host-pathogen interactions by altering biotic and abiotic factors directly linked to both host and pathogen fitness. Therefore, studies investigating the links between natural vegetation and chytridiomycosis require integrative approaches to control for the multitude of possible interactions of biological and environmental variables in spatial epidemiology. In this study, we quantified Bd infection dynamics across a gradient of natural vegetation and microclimates, looking for causal associations between vegetation cover, multiple microclimatic variables, and pathogen prevalence and infection intensity. To minimize the effects of host diversity in our analyses, we sampled amphibian populations in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, a region with relatively high single-host dominance. We sampled permanent ponds for anurans, focusing on populations of the habitat generalist frog Lithobates clamitans, and recorded various biotic and abiotic factors that potentially affect host-pathogen interactions: natural vegetation, canopy density, water temperature, and host population and community attributes. We screened for important explanatory variables of Bd infections and used path analyses to statistically test for the strength of cascading effects linking vegetation cover, microclimate, and Bd parameters. We found that canopy density, natural vegetation, and daily average water temperature were the best predictors of Bd. High canopy density resulted in lower water temperature, which in turn predicted higher Bd prevalence and infection intensity. Our results confirm that microclimatic shifts arising from changes in natural vegetation play an important role in Bd spatial epidemiology, with areas of closed canopy favoring Bd. Given increasing rates of anthropogenic habitat modification and the resulting declines in temperate and tropical frogs, understanding how vegetation cover and disease interact is critical for predicting Bd spread and developing appropriate management tools for wild populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere48205
JournalPloS one
Volume7
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 31 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General

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