Widespread occurrence of an emerging pathogen in amphibian communities of the Venezuelan Andes.

Sanchez, D.; Chacon-Ortiz, A.; Leon, F.; Han, B.A.; Lampo, M.
Biol. Conserv.
Many recent amphibian declines have been associated with chytridiomycosis, a cutaneous disease caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, but increasing evidence suggests that this pathogen may coexist with some species without causing declines. In the Venezuelan Andes, the disappearance of three anuran species during the late eighties was attributed to B. dendrobatidis. Recently, this pathogen was found to be prevalent in this region on the introduced American bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus. As a first step toward assessing the risk of amphibian communities to B. dendrobatidis in this region, we conducted a broad survey across multiple habitat types and an altitudinal gradient spanning over 2000m. We diagnosed 649 frogs from 17 species using real time and conventional PCR assays, and recorded relevant abiotic characteristics of host habitats. Infection was detected in 10 native species of pond, stream and terrestrial habitats from 80-2600m, representing nine new host records. L. catesbeianus was the most important reservoir with 79.9% of individuals infected and an average of 2299 zoospores. Among native frogs, Dendropsophus meridensis, an endangered species sympatric with L. catesbeianus, showed the highest infection prevalence and mean zoospore load (26.7%; 2749 zoospores). We did not detect clinical signs of disease in infected hosts; however, species such as D. meridensis may be at risk if environmental stress exacerbates vulnerability or pathogen loads. While surveillance is an effective strategy to identify highly exposed species and habitats, we need to understand species-specific responses to B. dendrobatidis to stratify risk in amphibian communities.
Cambridge Scientific Abstracts