Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is a chytrid fungus that causes the lethal skin disease chytridiomycosis in amphibians. It is regarded as an emerging infectious disease affecting diverse amphibian populations in many parts of the world. Because there are few model amphibian species for immunological studies, little is known about immune defenses against B. dendrobatidis. We show here that the South African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, is a suitable model for investigating immunity to this pathogen. After an experimental exposure, a mild infection developed over 20 to 30 days and declined by 45 days postexposure. Either purified antimicrobial peptides or mixtures of peptides in the skin mucus inhibited B. dendrobatidis growth in vitro. Skin peptide secretion was maximally induced by injection of norepinephrine, and this treatment resulted in sustained skin peptide depletion and increased susceptibility to infection. Sublethal X-irradiation of frogs decreased leukocyte numbers in the spleen and resulted in greater susceptibility to infection. Immunization against B. dendrobatidis induced elevated pathogen-specific IgM and IgY serum antibodies. Mucus secretions from X. laevis previously exposed to B. dendrobatidis contained significant amounts of IgM, IgY, and IgX antibodies that bind to B. dendrobatidis. These data strongly suggest that both innate and adaptive immune defenses are involved in the resistance of X. laevis to lethal B. dendrobatidis infections.
The disease chytridiomycosis, which is caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is associated with recent declines in amphibian populations. Susceptibility to this disease varies among amphibian populations and species, and resistance appears to be attributable in part to the presence of antifungal microbial species associated with the skin of amphibians. The betaproteobacterium Janthinobacterium lividum has been isolated from the skins of several amphibian species and produces the antifungal metabolite violacein, which inhibits B. dendrobatidis. In this study, we added J. lividum to red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) to obtain an increased range of violacein concentrations on the skin. Adding J. lividum to the skin of the salamander increased the concentration of violacein on the skin, which was strongly associated with survival after experimental exposure to B. dendrobatidis. As expected from previous work, some individuals that did not receive J. lividum and were exposed to B. dendrobatidis survived. These individuals had concentrations of bacterially produced violacein on their skins that were predicted to kill B. dendrobatidis. Our study suggests that a threshold violacein concentration of about 18 μM on a salamander's skin prevents mortality and morbidity caused by B. dendrobatidis. In addition, we show that over one-half of individuals in nature support antifungal bacteria that produce violacein, which suggests that there is a mutualism between violacein-producing bacteria and P. cinereus and that adding J. lividum is effective for protecting individuals that lack violacein-producing skin bacteria.
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is the causative agent of chytridiomycosis, a fungal skin disease in amphibians and driver of worldwide amphibian declines.
We focussed on the early stages of infection by Bd in 3 amphibian species with a differential susceptibility to chytridiomycosis. Skin explants of Alytes muletensis, Litoria caerulea and Xenopus leavis were exposed to Bd in an Ussing chamber for 3 to 5 days. Early interactions of Bd with amphibian skin were observed using light microscopy and transmission electron microscopy. To validate the observations in vitro, comparison was made with skin from experimentally infected frogs. Additional in vitro experiments were performed to elucidate the process of intracellular colonization in L. caerulea.
Early interactions of Bd with amphibian skin are: attachment of zoospores to host skin, zoospore germination, germ tube development, penetration into skin cells, invasive growth in the host skin, resulting in the loss of host cell cytoplasm. Inoculation of A. muletensis and L. caerulea skin was followed within 24 h by endobiotic development, with sporangia located intracellularly in the skin. Evidence is provided of how intracellular colonization is established and how colonization by Bd proceeds to deeper skin layers. Older thalli develop rhizoid-like structures that spread to deeper skin layers, form a swelling inside the host cell to finally give rise to a new thallus.
In X. laevis, interaction of Bd with skin was limited to an epibiotic state, with sporangia developing upon the skin. Only the superficial epidermis was affected. Epidermal cells seemed to be used as a nutrient source without development of intracellular thalli. The in vitro data agreed with the results obtained after experimental infection of the studied frog species. These data suggest that the colonization strategy of B. dendrobatidis is host dependent, with the extent of colonization most likely determined by inherent characteristics of the host epidermis.
Pathogens do not normally drive their hosts to extinction; however, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which causes amphibian chytridiomycosis, has been able to do so. Theory predicts that extinction can be caused by long-lived or saprobic free-living stages. The hypothesis that such a stage occurs in B. dendrobatidis is supported by the recent discovery of an apparently encysted form of the pathogen. To investigate the effect of a free-living stage of B. dendrobatidis on host population dynamics, a mathematical model was developed to describe the introduction of chytridiomycosis into a breeding population of Bufo bufo, parametrized from laboratory infection and transmission experiments. The model predicted that the longer that B. dendrobatidis was able to persist in water, either due to an increased zoospore lifespan or saprobic reproduction, the more likely it was that it could cause local B. bufo extinction (defined as decrease below a threshold level). Establishment of endemic B. dendrobatidis infection in B. bufo, with severe host population depression, was also possible, in agreement with field observations. Although this model is able to predict clear trends, more precise predictions will only be possible when the life history of B. dendrobatidis, including free-living stages of the life cycle, is better understood.
mathematical modelling; epidemiology; Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; chytridiomycosis; Bufo bufo; amphibian declines
The amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is a recently emerged pathogen that causes the infectious disease chytridiomycosis and has been implicated as a contributing factor in the global amphibian decline. Since its discovery, research has been focused on developing various methods of mitigating the impact of chytridiomycosis on amphibian hosts but little attention has been given to the role of antifungal agents that could be added to the host's environment. Sodium chloride is a known antifungal agent used routinely in the aquaculture industry and this study investigates its potential for use as a disease management tool in amphibian conservation. The effect of 0–5 ppt NaCl on the growth, motility and survival of the chytrid fungus when grown in culture media and its effect on the growth, infection load and survivorship of infected Peron's tree frogs (Litoria peronii) in captivity, was investigated. The results reveal that these concentrations do not negatively affect the survival of the host or the pathogen. However, concentrations greater than 3 ppt significantly reduced the growth and motility of the chytrid fungus compared to 0 ppt. Concentrations of 1–4 ppt NaCl were also associated with significantly lower host infection loads while infected hosts exposed to 3 and 4 ppt NaCl were found to have significantly higher survival rates. These results support the potential for NaCl to be used as an environmentally distributed antifungal agent for the prevention of chytridiomycosis in susceptible amphibian hosts. However, further research is required to identify any negative effects of salt exposure on both target and non-target organisms prior to implementation.
The pandemic amphibian disease chytridiomycosis often exhibits strong seasonality in both prevalence and disease-associated mortality once it becomes endemic. One hypothesis that could explain this temporal pattern is that simple weather-driven pathogen proliferation (population growth) is a major driver of chytridiomycosis disease dynamics. Despite various elaborations of this hypothesis in the literature for explaining amphibian declines (e.g., the chytrid thermal-optimum hypothesis) it has not been formally tested on infection patterns in the wild. In this study we developed a simple process-based model to simulate the growth of the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) under varying weather conditions to provide an a priori test of a weather-linked pathogen proliferation hypothesis for endemic chytridiomycosis. We found strong support for several predictions of the proliferation hypothesis when applied to our model species, Litoria pearsoniana, sampled across multiple sites and years: the weather-driven simulations of pathogen growth potential (represented as a growth index in the 30 days prior to sampling; GI30) were positively related to both the prevalence and intensity of Bd infections, which were themselves strongly and positively correlated. In addition, a machine-learning classifier achieved ∼72% success in classifying positive qPCR results when utilising just three informative predictors 1) GI30, 2) frog body size and 3) rain on the day of sampling. Hence, while intrinsic traits of the individuals sampled (species, size, sex) and nuisance sampling variables (rainfall when sampling) influenced infection patterns obtained when sampling via qPCR, our results also strongly suggest that weather-linked pathogen proliferation plays a key role in the infection dynamics of endemic chytridiomycosis in our study system. Predictive applications of the model include surveillance design, outbreak preparedness and response, climate change scenario modelling and the interpretation of historical patterns of amphibian decline.
Amphibian chytridiomycosis is an emerging infectious disease of amphibians thought to be moved between countries by trade in infected amphibians. The causative fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, produces aquatic, motile zoospores; infections have been achieved in experiments by exposing amphibians to water containing zoospores. However, the ability of this fungus to survive in the environment in the absence of an amphibian host is unknown. We show that B. dendrobatidis will survive in tap water and in deionized water for 3 and 4 weeks, respectively. In lake water, infectivity was observed for 7 weeks after introduction. The knowledge that water can remain infective for up to 7 weeks is important for the formulation of disease control and quarantine strategies for the management of water that has been in contact with amphibians.
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; chytridiomycosis; amphibian disease; research
Histologic evidence indicates southern Africa as the origin of the amphibian chytrid fungus.
The sudden appearance of chytridiomycosis, the cause of amphibian deaths and population declines in several continents, suggests that its etiologic agent, the amphibian chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, was introduced into the affected regions. However, the origin of this virulent pathogen is unknown. A survey was conducted of 697 archived specimens of 3 species of Xenopus collected from 1879 to 1999 in southern Africa in which the histologic features of the interdigital webbing were analyzed. The earliest case of chytridiomycosis found was in a Xenopus laevis frog in 1938, and overall prevalence was 2.7%. The prevalence showed no significant differences between species, regions, season, or time period. Chytridiomycosis was a stable endemic infection in southern Africa for 23 years before any positive specimen was found outside Africa. We propose that Africa is the origin of the amphibian chytrid and that the international trade in X. laevis that began in the mid-1930s was the means of dissemination.
Chytridiomycota; chytridiomycosis; Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; amphibian chytrid; amphibian declines; disease; epidemiology; origin; prevalence; southern Africa; Xenopus; amphibians; research
Laboratory investigations into the amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), have accelerated recently, given the pathogen’s role in causing the global decline and extinction of amphibians. Studies in which host animals were exposed to Bd have largely assumed that lab-maintained pathogen cultures retained the infective and pathogenic properties of wild isolates. Attenuated pathogenicity is common in artificially maintained cultures of other pathogenic fungi, but to date, it is unknown whether, and to what degree, Bd might change in culture. We compared zoospore production over time in two samples of a single Bd isolate having different passage histories: one maintained in artificial media for more than six years (JEL427-P39), and one recently thawed from cryopreserved stock (JEL427-P9). In a common garden experiment, we then exposed two different amphibian species, Eleutherodactylus coqui and Atelopus zeteki, to both cultures to test whether Bd attenuates in pathogenicity with in vitro passages. The culture with the shorter passage history, JEL427-P9, had significantly greater zoospore densities over time compared to JEL427-P39. This difference in zoospore production was associated with a difference in pathogenicity for a susceptible amphibian species, indicating that fecundity may be an important virulence factor for Bd. In the 130-day experiment, Atelopus zeteki frogs exposed to the JEL427-P9 culture experienced higher average infection intensity and 100% mortality, compared with 60% mortality for frogs exposed to JEL427-P39. This effect was not observed with Eleutherodactylus coqui, which was able to clear infection. We hypothesize that the differences in phenotypic performance observed with Atelopus zeteki are rooted in changes of the Bd genome. Future investigations enabled by this study will focus on the underlying mechanisms of Bd pathogenicity.
Amphibians worldwide are experiencing devastating declines, some of which are due to the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, Bd). Populations in the southeastern United States, however, have not been noticeably affected by the pathogen. The green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) is abundant and widespread in the southeastern United States, but has not been documented to harbor Bd infection. This study examined the susceptibility of H. cinerea to two strains of Bd in the lab and the prevalence of infection in wild populations of this species in southeastern Louisiana. Although we were able to infect H. cinerea with Bd in the lab, we did not observe any clinical signs of chytridiomycosis. Furthermore, infection by Bd does not appear to negatively affect body condition or growth rate of post-metamorphic individuals. We found no evidence of infection in surveys of wild H. cinerea. Our results suggest that H. cinerea is not susceptible to chytridiomycosis post-metamorphosis and probably is not an important carrier of the fungal pathogen Bd in the southeastern United States, although susceptibility at the larval stage remains unknown.
Amphibian species are declining at an alarming rate on a global scale in large part owing to an infectious disease caused by the chytridiomycete fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This disease of amphibians has recently emerged within Europe, but knowledge of its effects on amphibian assemblages remains poor. Importantly, little is known about the environmental envelope that is associated with chytridiomycosis in Europe and the potential for climate change to drive future disease dynamics. Here, we use long-term observations on amphibian population dynamics in the Peñalara Natural Park, Spain, to investigate the link between climate change and chytridiomycosis. Our analysis shows a significant association between change in local climatic variables and the occurrence of chytridiomycosis within this region. Specifically, we show that rising temperature is linked to the occurrence of chytrid-related disease, consistent with the chytrid-thermal-optimum hypothesis. We show that these local variables are driven by general circulation patterns, principally the North Atlantic Oscillation. Given that B. dendrobatidis is known to be broadly distributed across Europe, there is now an urgent need to assess the generality of our finding and determine whether climate-driven epidemics may be expected to impact on amphibian species across the wider region.
climate-change; chytridiomycosis; Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; amphibian declines; epidemiology
Dramatic declines and extinctions of amphibian populations throughout the world have been associated with chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease caused by the pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Previous studies indicated that Bd prevalence correlates with cooler temperatures in the field, and laboratory experiments have demonstrated that Bd ceases growth at temperatures above 28°C. Here we investigate how small-scale variations in water temperature correlate with Bd prevalence in the wild. We sampled 221 amphibians, including 201 lowland leopard frogs (Rana [Lithobates] yavapaiensis), from 12 sites in Arizona, USA, and tested them for Bd. Amphibians were encountered in microhabitats that exhibited a wide range of water temperatures (10–50°C), including several geothermal water sources. There was a strong inverse correlation between the water temperature in which lowland leopard frogs were captured and Bd prevalence, even after taking into account the influence of year, season, and host size. In locations where Bd was known to be present, the prevalence of Bd infections dropped from 75–100% in water <15°C, to less than 10% in water >30°C. A strong inverse correlation between Bd infection status and water temperature was also observed within sites. Our findings suggest that microhabitats where water temperatures exceed 30°C provide lowland leopard frogs with significant protection from Bd, which could have important implications for disease dynamics, as well as management applications.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them - Sylvia Plath, “The Bell Jar” (1963).
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the causative agent of chytridiomycosis, is decimating amphibians worldwide. Unsurprisingly, the majority of studies have therefore concentrated on documenting morbidity and mortality of susceptible species and projecting population consequences as a consequence of this emerging infectious disease. Currently, there is a paucity of studies investigating the sub-lethal costs of Bd in apparently asymptomatic species, particularly in controlled experimental conditions. Here we report the consequences of a single dose of B. dendrobatidis zoospores on captive adult palmate newts (Lissotriton helveticus) for morphological and behavioural traits that associate with reproductive success.
A single exposure to ~2000 zoospores induced a subclinical Bd infection. One week after inoculation 84% of newts tested positive for Bd, and of those, 98% had apparently lost the infection by the day 30. However, exposed newts suffered significant mass loss compared with control newts, and those experimental newts removing higher levels of Bd lost most mass. We found no evidence to suggest that three secondary sexual characteristics (areas of dorsal crest and rear foot webbing, and length of tail filament) were reduced between experimental versus control newts; in fact, rear foot webbing was 26% more expansive at the end of the experiment in exposed newts. Finally, compared with unexposed controls, exposure to Bd was associated with a 50% earlier initiation of the non-reproductive terrestrial phase.
Our results suggest that Bd has measureable, but sub-lethal effects, on adult palmate newts, at least under the laboratory conditions presented. We conclude that the effects reported are most likely to be mediated through the initiation of costly immune responses and/or tissue repair mechanisms. Although we found no evidence of hastened secondary sexual trait regression, through reducing individual body condition and potentially, breeding season duration, we predict that Bd exposure might have negative impacts on populations of palmate newts through reducing individual reproductive success and adult recruitment.
Body condition; Cost of immunity; Chytridiomycosis; Emerging infectious disease; Resistance; Secondary sexual traits
Understanding how pathogens respond to changing environmental conditions is a central challenge in disease ecology. The environmentally sensitive fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes the amphibian disease chytridiomycosis, has spread globally causing amphibian extirpations in a wide variety of climatic regions. To gain an in-depth understanding of Bd's responses to temperature, we used an integrative approach, combining empirical laboratory experiments with mathematical modeling. First, we selected a single Bd isolate and serially propagated two lineages of the isolate for multiple generations in two stable thermal conditions: 4°C (cold-adapted lineage) and 23°C (warm-adapted lineage). We quantified the production of infectious zoospores (fecundity), the timing of zoospore release, and zoospore activity in reciprocal temperature transplant experiments in which both Bd lineages were grown in either high or low temperature conditions. We then developed population growth models for the Bd lineages under each set of temperature conditions. We found that Bd had lower population growth rates, but longer periods of zoospore activity in the low temperature treatment (4°C) compared to the high temperature treatment (23°C). This effect was more pronounced in Bd lineages that were propagated in the low temperature treatment (4°C), suggesting a shift in Bd's response to low temperature conditions. Our results provide novel insights into the mechanisms by which Bd can thrive in a wide variety of temperature conditions, potentially altering the dynamics of chytridiomycosis and thus, the propensity for Bd to cause amphibian population collapse. We also suggest that the adaptive responses of Bd to thermal conditions warrant further investigation, especially in the face of global climate change.
Amphibian declines; Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; chytridiomycosis; climate change; emerging infectious disease; temperature
Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is an infectious disease that causes population declines of many amphibians. Cutaneous bacteria isolated from redback salamanders, Plethodon cinereus, and mountain yellow-legged frogs, Rana muscosa, inhibit the growth of Bd in vitro. In this study, the bacterial community present on the skin of P. cinereus individuals was investigated to determine if it provides protection to salamanders from the lethal and sub-lethal effects of chytridiomycosis. When the cutaneous bacterial community was reduced prior to Bd exposure, salamanders experienced a significantly greater decrease in body mass, which is a symptom of the disease, when compared to infected individuals with a normal bacterial community. In addition, a greater proportion of infected individuals with a reduced bacterial community experienced limb-lifting, a behavior seen only in infected individuals. Overall, these results demonstrate that the cutaneous bacterial community of P. cinereus provides protection to the salamander from Bd and that alteration of this community can change disease resistance. Therefore, symbiotic microbes associated with this species appear to be an important component of its innate skin defenses.
Rescuing amphibian diversity is an achievable conservation challenge. Disease mitigation is one essential component of population management. Here we assess existing disease mitigation strategies, some in early experimental stages, which focus on the globally emerging chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. We discuss the precedent for each strategy in systems ranging from agriculture to human medicine, and the outlook for each strategy in terms of research needs and long-term potential.
We find that the effects of exposure to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis occur on a spectrum from transient commensal to lethal pathogen. Management priorities are divided between (1) halting pathogen spread and developing survival assurance colonies, and (2) prophylactic or remedial disease treatment. Epidemiological models of chytridiomycosis suggest that mitigation strategies can control disease without eliminating the pathogen. Ecological ethics guide wildlife disease research, but several ethical questions remain for managing disease in the field.
Because sustainable conservation of amphibians in nature is dependent on long-term population persistence and co-evolution with potentially lethal pathogens, we suggest that disease mitigation not focus exclusively on the elimination or containment of the pathogen, or on the captive breeding of amphibian hosts. Rather, successful disease mitigation must be context specific with epidemiologically informed strategies to manage already infected populations by decreasing pathogenicity and host susceptibility. We propose population level treatments based on three steps: first, identify mechanisms of disease suppression; second, parameterize epizootiological models of disease and population dynamics for testing under semi-natural conditions; and third, begin a process of adaptive management in field trials with natural populations.
Chytridiomycosis, a disease caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is driving amphibian declines and extinctions in protected areas globally. The introduction of invasive reservoir species has been implicated in the spread of Bd but does not explain the appearance of the pathogen in remote protected areas. In the high elevation (>1500 m) Sierra Nevada of California, the native Pacific chorus frog, Pseudacris regilla, appears unaffected by chytridiomycosis while sympatric species experience catastrophic declines. We investigated whether P. regilla is a reservoir of Bd by comparing habitat occupancy before and after a major Bd outbreak and measuring infection in P. regilla in the field, monitoring susceptibility of P. regilla to Bd in the laboratory, examining tissues with histology to determine patterns of infection, and using an innovative soak technique to determine individual output of Bd zoospores in water. Pseudacris regilla persists at 100% of sites where a sympatric species has been extirpated from 72% in synchrony with a wave of Bd. In the laboratory, P. regilla carried loads of Bd as much as an order of magnitude higher than loads found lethal to sympatric species. Histology shows heavy Bd infection in patchy areas next to normal skin, a possible mechanism for tolerance. The soak technique was 77.8% effective at detecting Bd in water and showed an average output of 68 zoospores per minute per individual. The results of this study suggest P. regilla should act as a Bd reservoir and provide evidence of a tolerance mechanism in a reservoir species.
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.
Infections with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (B. dendrobatidis), the causal agent of chytridiomycosis, have been shown to play an important role in the decline of amphibians worldwide. Spread of the fungus is poorly understood. Bird movement might possibly contribute to the spread of B. dendrobatidis in the environment. Therefore, 397 wild geese in Belgium were screened for presence of B. dendrobatidis on their toes using real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR). In addition, chemotaxis towards, adhesion, survival after desiccation and proliferation of B. dendrobatidis on keratinous toe scales from waterfowl were examined in vitro. qPCR revealed that 76 geese (15%) were positive for B. dendrobatidis. Results of the in vitro tests showed that B. dendrobatidis is attracted to the keratinous toes of aquatic birds on which they can adhere and even proliferate. However, desiccation is poorly tolerated. This suggests waterfowl are potential environmental reservoirs for B. dendrobatidis.
Disease can be an important driver of host population dynamics and epizootics can cause severe host population declines. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the pathogen causing amphibian chytridiomycosis, may occur epizootically or enzootically and can harm amphibian populations in many ways. While effects of Bd epizootics are well documented, the effects of enzootic Bd have rarely been described. We used a state-space model that accounts for observation error to test whether population trends of a species highly susceptible to Bd, the midwife toad Alytes obstetricans, are negatively affected by the enzootic presence of the pathogen. Unexpectedly, Bd had no negative effect on population growth rates from 2002–2008. This suggests that negative effects of disease on individuals do not necessarily translate into negative effects at the population level. Populations of amphibian species that are susceptible to the emerging disease chytridiomycosis can persist despite the enzootic presence of the pathogen under current environmental conditions.
Emerging infectious diseases are of great concern for both wildlife and humans. Several highly virulent fungal pathogens have recently been discovered in natural populations, highlighting the need for a better understanding of fungal-vertebrate host-pathogen interactions. Because most fungal pathogens are not fatal in the absence of other predisposing conditions, host-pathogen dynamics for deadly fungal pathogens are of particular interest. The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (hereafter Bd) infects hundreds of species of frogs in the wild. It is found worldwide and is a significant contributor to the current global amphibian decline. However, the mechanism by which Bd causes death in amphibians, and the response of the host to Bd infection, remain largely unknown. Here we use whole-genome microarrays to monitor the transcriptional responses to Bd infection in the model frog species, Silurana (Xenopus) tropicalis, which is susceptible to chytridiomycosis. To elucidate the immune response to Bd and evaluate the physiological effects of chytridiomycosis, we measured gene expression changes in several tissues (liver, skin, spleen) following exposure to Bd. We detected a strong transcriptional response for genes involved in physiological processes that can help explain some clinical symptoms of chytridiomycosis at the organismal level. However, we detected surprisingly little evidence of an immune response to Bd exposure, suggesting that this susceptible species may not be mounting efficient innate and adaptive immune responses against Bd. The weak immune response may be partially explained by the thermal conditions of the experiment, which were optimal for Bd growth. However, many immune genes exhibited decreased expression in Bd-exposed frogs compared to control frogs, suggesting a more complex effect of Bd on the immune system than simple temperature-mediated immune suppression. This study generates important baseline data for ongoing efforts to understand differences in response to Bd between susceptible and resistant frog species and the effects of chytridiomycosis in natural populations.
To fully comprehend chytridiomycosis, the amphibian disease caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), it is essential to understand how Bd affects amphibians throughout their remarkable range of life histories. Crawfish Frogs (Lithobates areolatus) are a typical North American pond-breeding species that forms explosive spring breeding aggregations in seasonal and semipermanent wetlands. But unlike most species, when not breeding Crawfish Frogs usually live singly—in nearly total isolation from conspecifics—and obligately in burrows dug by crayfish. Crayfish burrows penetrate the water table, and therefore offer Crawfish Frogs a second, permanent aquatic habitat when not breeding. Over the course of two years we sampled for the presence of Bd in Crawfish Frog adults. Sampling was conducted seasonally, as animals moved from post-winter emergence through breeding migrations, then back into upland burrow habitats. During our study, 53% of Crawfish Frog breeding adults tested positive for Bd in at least one sample; 27% entered breeding wetlands Bd positive; 46% exited wetlands Bd positive. Five emigrating Crawfish Frogs (12%) developed chytridiomycosis and died. In contrast, all 25 adult frogs sampled while occupying upland crayfish burrows during the summer tested Bd negative. One percent of postmetamorphic juveniles sampled were Bd positive. Zoospore equivalents/swab ranged from 0.8 to 24,436; five out of eight frogs with zoospore equivalents near or >10,000 are known to have died. In summary, Bd infection rates in Crawfish Frog populations ratchet up from near zero during the summer to over 25% following overwintering; rates then nearly double again during and just after breeding—when mortality occurs—before the infection wanes during the summer. Bd-negative postmetamorphic juveniles may not be exposed again to this pathogen until they take up residence in crayfish burrows, or until their first breeding, some years later.
The disease chytridiomycosis is responsible for declines and extirpations of amphibians worldwide. Chytridiomycosis is caused by a fungal pathogen (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) that infects amphibian skin. Although we have a basic understanding of the pathophysiology from laboratory experiments, many mechanistic details remain unresolved and it is unknown if disease development is similar in wild amphibian populations. To gain a better understanding of chytridiomycosis pathophysiology in wild amphibian populations, we collected blood biochemistry measurements during an outbreak in mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosa) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We found that pathogen load is associated with disruptions in fluid and electrolyte balance, yet is not associated with fluctuations acid-base balance. These findings enhance our knowledge of the pathophysiology of this disease and indicate that disease development is consistent across multiple species and in both laboratory and natural conditions. We recommend integrating an understanding of chytridiomycosis pathophysiology with mitigation practices to improve amphibian conservation.
One unique physiological characteristic of frogs is that their main route for intake of water is across the skin. In these animals, the skin acts in concert with the kidney and urinary bladder to maintain electrolyte homeostasis. Water absorption across the skin is driven by the osmotic gradient that develops as a consequence of solute transport. Our recent study demonstrated that chytridiomycosis, an infection of amphibian skin by the fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, inhibits epithelial Na+ channels, attenuating Na+ absorption through the skin. In frogs that become severely affected by this fungus, systemic depletion of Na+, K+ and Cl− is thought to cause deterioration of cardiac electrical function, leading to cardiac arrest. Here we review the ion transport mechanisms of frog skin, and discuss the effect of chytridiomycosis on these mechanisms.
Epithelial Na+ Channel; chytridiomycosis; Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; frog skin; hyponatremia; hypokalemia
Extinction risks are increasing for amphibians due to rising threats and minimal conservation efforts. Nearly one quarter of all threatened/extinct amphibians in the IUCN Red List is purportedly at risk from the disease chytridiomycosis. However, a closer look at the data reveals that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (the causal agent) has been identified and confirmed to cause clinical disease in only 14% of these species. Primary literature surveys confirm these findings; ruling out major discrepancies between Red List assessments and real-time science. Despite widespread interest in chytridiomycosis, little progress has been made between assessment years to acquire evidence for the role of chytridiomycosis in species-specific amphibian declines. Instead, assessment teams invoke the precautionary principle when listing chytridiomycosis as a threat. Precaution is valuable when dealing with the world's most threatened taxa, however scientific research is needed to distinguish between real and predicted threats in order to better prioritize conservation efforts. Fast paced, cost effective, in situ research to confirm or rule out chytridiomycosis in species currently hypothesized to be threatened by the disease would be a step in the right direction. Ultimately, determining the manner in which amphibian conservation resources are utilized is a conversation for the greater conservation community that we hope to stimulate here.