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Effects of snowpack, temperature, and disease on the demography of a wild population of amphibians

June 23, 2020

Understanding the demographic consequences of interactions among pathogens, hosts, and weather conditions is critical in determining how amphibian populations respond to disease and in identifying site-specific conservation actions that can be developed to bolster persistence of amphibian populations. We investigated population dynamics in Boreal Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) relative to abiotic (fall temperatures and snowpack) and biotic (the abundance of another anuran host and disease) characteristics of the local environment in Wyoming, USA. We used capture–recapture data and a multistate model where state was treated as a hidden Markov process to incorporate disease state uncertainty and assess our a priori hypotheses. Our results indicated that snowpack during the coldest week of winter is more influential to toad survival, disease transition probabilities, and the population-level prevalence of the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in the spring, than temperatures in the fall or the presence of another host. As hypothesized, apparent survival at low (i.e., <25 cm) snowpack (0.22; confidence interval [CI] = 0.15–0.31) was lower than apparent survival at high snowpack (90.65; CI = 0.50–0.78). Our findings highlight the potential for local environmental factors, like snowpack, to influence disease and host persistence, and demonstrate the ecological complexity of disease effects on population demography in natural environments. This work further emphasizes the need for improved understanding of how climate change may influence the relationships among pathogens, hosts, and their environment for wild animal populations challenged by disease.

Publication Year 2020
Title Effects of snowpack, temperature, and disease on the demography of a wild population of amphibians
DOI 10.1655/0018-0831-76.2.132
Authors Erin L. Muths, Blake R. Hossack, Evan H. Grant, David Pilliod, Brittany A. Mosher
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Herpetologica
Index ID 70211174
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center