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Identifying management-relevant research priorities for responding to disease-associated amphibian declines

October 18, 2018

A research priority can be defined as a knowledge gap that, if resolved, identifies the optimal course of conservation action. We (a group of geographically distributed and multidisciplinary research scientists) used tools from nominal group theory and decision analysis to collaboratively identify and prioritize information needs within the context of disease-associated amphibian decline, in order to develop a strategy that would support US management agency needs. We developed iterated influence diagrams to create and assess a unified research strategy. We illustrated a transparent process for identifying specific knowledge gaps in amphibian disease ecology relevant to environmental management, and then constructed a research plan to address these uncertainties. The resulting priorities include a need to: (1) understand the drivers of the community-disease relationship, (2) determine the mechanisms by which exposure to contaminants influence disease outcomes, (3) identify elements of terrestrial and aquatic habitats that stabilize host-pathogen dynamics, (4) discuss how metapopulations may be managed to reduce the speed and intensity of disease outbreaks, and (5) define the relationship between habitat management and the environmental and host microbiomes. Along with identifying research priorities for disease management, we present the details of the process used to develop a consensus plan for addressing disease-related declines in amphibians on federally managed lands of the United States.