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Infection status as the basis for habitat choices in a wild amphibian

December 4, 2020

Animals challenged with disease may select specific habitat conditions that help prevent or reduce infection. Whereas preinfection avoidance of habitats with a high risk of disease exposure has been documented in both captive and free-ranging animals, evidence of switching habitats after infection to support the clearing of the infection is limited to laboratory experiments. The extent to which wild animals proximately modify habitat choices in response to infection status thus remains unclear. We investigated preinfection behavioral avoidance and postinfection habitat switching using wild, radio-tracked boreal toads (Anaxyrus boreas boreas) in a population challenged with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a pathogenic fungus responsible for a catastrophic panzootic affecting hundreds of amphibian species worldwide. Boreal toads did not preemptively avoid microhabitats with conditions conducive to Bd growth. Infected individuals, however, selected warmer, more open habitats, which were associated with elevated body temperature and the subsequent clearing of infection. Our results suggest that disease can comprise an important selective pressure on animal habitat and space use. Habitat selection models, therefore, may be greatly improved by including variables that quantify infection risk and/or the infection status of individuals through time.

Publication Year 2021
Title Infection status as the basis for habitat choices in a wild amphibian
DOI 10.1086/711927
Authors Gabriel M. Barrile, Anna D. Chalfoun, Annika W. Walters
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title American Naturalist
Index ID 70227144
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit