Habitat split as a driver of disease in amphibians

C. Guilherme Becker, Sasha E. Greenspan, Renato A. Martins, Mariana L. Lyra, Paula Prist, Jean Paul Metzger, Vinicius São Pedro, Célio F.B. Haddad, Emily H. Le Sage, Douglas C. Woodhams, Anna E. Savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic habitat disturbance is fundamentally altering patterns of disease transmission and immunity across the vertebrate tree of life. Most studies linking anthropogenic habitat change and disease focus on habitat loss and fragmentation, but these processes often lead to a third process that is equally important: habitat split. Defined as spatial separation between the multiple classes of natural habitat that many vertebrate species require to complete their life cycles, habitat split has been linked to population declines in vertebrates, e.g. amphibians breeding in lowland aquatic habitats and overwintering in fragments of upland terrestrial vegetation. Here, we link habitat split to enhanced disease risk in amphibians (i) by reviewing the biotic and abiotic forces shaping elements of immunity and (ii) through a spatially oriented field study focused on tropical frogs. We propose a framework to investigate mechanisms by which habitat split influences disease risk in amphibians, focusing on three broad host factors linked to immunity: (i) composition of symbiotic microbial communities, (ii) immunogenetic variation, and (iii) stress hormone levels. Our review highlights the potential for habitat split to contribute to host-associated microbiome dysbiosis, reductions in immunogenetic repertoire, and chronic stress, that often facilitate pathogenic infections and disease in amphibians and other classes of vertebrates. We highlight that targeted habitat-restoration strategies aiming to connect multiple classes of natural habitats (e.g. terrestrial–freshwater, terrestrial–marine, marine–freshwater) could enhance priming of the vertebrate immune system through repeated low-load exposure to enzootic pathogens and reduced stress-induced immunosuppression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)727-746
Number of pages20
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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