ABSTRACT: Chytridiomycosis is a recently emerged, infectious skin disease of amphibians that has been linked directly to mass mortalities, population declines, and species extinctions worldwide. An understanding of the factors that limit the distribution and abundance of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (the etiological agent of chytridiomycosis) is urgently required. We conducted disease surveys at 31 lowland sites distributed north-south along 2315 km of the Australian east coast that encompassed 20.8 degrees of latitude. A total of 863 adult male stony creek frogs (Litoria lesueuri complex) were sampled, and the overall prevalence of B. dendrobatidis infection was 26%. B. dendrobatidis was detected at 77% of the sites, including sites at the northern and southern limits of the latitudinal transect. Frogs from temperate regions, however, had significantly more intense infections than did their tropical counterparts, often carrying an order of magnitude more B. dendrobatidis zoospores, suggesting that at low elevations, temperate frogs are at higher risk of chytridiomycosis-induced mortality than are tropical frogs. The prevalence and intensity of B. dendrobatidis infections were significantly greater at sites with high rainfall (>33 mm in the 30 days prior to sampling) and cool temperatures (stream temperature 1 h after sunset < 23 degrees C). Although climatic variables explained much of the variation in the prevalence and intensity of B. dendrobatidis infections between infected and uninfected sites, frog snout-vent length was consistently the best predictor of infection levels across infected sites. Small frogs were more likely to be infected and carried more intense infections than larger frogs, suggesting either that frogs can outgrow their chytrid infections or that the disease induces developmental stress that limits growth. Our results will directly assist amphibian disease researchers and wildlife managers, whose conservation efforts should focus on those amphibian populations living within the B. dendrobatidis climatic envelope that we have described.
Conservation Biology 11/2007; 21(5):1280-90. · 4.69 Impact Factor