Interspecific variation in susceptibility of frog tadpoles to the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.
As part of an overall biodiversity crisis many amphibian populations are in decline throughout the world. Numerous causes have been invoked to explain these declines. These include habitat destruction, climate change, increasing levels of ultraviolet radiation, environmental contamination, and the introduction of non-native species and diseases. Several types of pathogens have been implicated in contributing to amphibian population declines: viruses, bacteria, oomycetes, and fungi. One particular fungus, the chytridiomycete Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis may have caused amphibian population declines in several regions. This pathogen causes chytridiomycosis, which is fatal to newly metamorphic and adult amphibians of certain species. We present experimental evidence that larval stages may also be susceptible to exposure to Batrachochytrium. There was, however, differential sensitivity to B. dendrobatidis in larvae we examined. In laboratory experiments, larval western toads (Bufo boreas) exposed to B. dendrobatidis experienced increased mortality and behaviors that suggested they were affected by exposure compared with unexposed control tadpoles. Larvae of Cascades frogs (Rana cascadae), bullfrogs (R. catesbeiana), and Pacific treefrogs (Hyla regilla) did not die after exposure to Batrachochytrium and appeared to behave normally. R. cascadae larvae exposed to B. dendrobatidis, however, showed an increase incidence in mouthpart abnormalities, a characteristic effect of chytridiomycosis, compared with unexposed controls. These results show that Batrachochytrium can negatively affect some species of amphibians at the larval stage and not others. The implications of interspecific variation in susceptibility to fungal infection are broad.