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Host-pathogen metapopulation dynamics suggest high elevation refugia for boreal toads

February 16, 2018

Emerging infectious diseases are an increasingly common threat to wildlife. Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is an emerging infectious disease that has been linked to amphibian declines around the world. Few studies exist that explore amphibian-Bd dynamics at the landscape scale, limiting our ability to identify which factors are associated with variation in population susceptibility and to develop effective in situdisease management. Declines of boreal toads (Anaxyrus boreas boreas) in the Southern Rocky Mountains are largely attributed to chytridiomycosis but variation exists in local extinction of boreal toads across this metapopulation. Using a large-scale historic dataset, we explored several potential factors influencing disease dynamics in the boreal toad-Bd system: geographic isolation of populations, amphibian community richness, elevational differences, and habitat permanence. We found evidence that boreal toad extinction risk was lowest at high elevations where temperatures may be sub-optimal for Bd growth and where small boreal toad populations may be below the threshold needed for efficient pathogen transmission. In addition, boreal toads were more likely to recolonize high elevation sites after local extinction, again suggesting that high elevations may provide refuge from disease for boreal toads. We illustrate a modeling framework that will be useful to natural resource managers striving to make decisions in amphibian-Bdsystems. Our data suggest that in the southern Rocky Mountains high elevation sites should be prioritized for conservation initiatives like reintroductions.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2018
Title Host-pathogen metapopulation dynamics suggest high elevation refugia for boreal toads
DOI 10.1002/eap.1699
Authors Brittany A. Mosher, Larissa L. Bailey, Erin L. Muths, Kathryn P. Huyvaert
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70195448
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center