Chytridiomycosis impacts predator-prey interactions in larval amphibian communities


Despite ecologists increasingly recognizing pathogens as playing significant roles in community dynamics, few experimental studies have quantified patterns of disease impacts on natural systems. Amphibians are experiencing population declines, and a fungal pathogen (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; Chytridiomycota) is a suspected causal agent in many declines. We studied the effects of a pathogenic fungus on community interactions between the gray treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, and eastern newts, Notophthalmus viridescens. Recent studies have characterized chytridiomycosis as an emerging infectious disease, whose suspected rapid range expansion and widespread occurrence pose a significant risk for amphibian populations worldwide. We reared larvae in outdoor polyethylene experimental tanks and tested the effects of initial larval density, predator presence, and fungal exposure on Hyla recruitment and predator-prey interactions between Hyla and Notophthalmus. Newts reduced treefrog survival, and high intraspecific density decreased metamorphic body mass independent of B. dendrobatidis. The presence of fungi reduced treefrog body mass at metamorphosis by 34%, but had no significant main effect on survival or larval period length. B. dendrobatidis differentially affected larval development in the presence of predators; Hyla developed slower when reared with the pathogen, but only when newts were present. This significant predator-by-pathogen interaction suggests that the impact of chytridiomycosis on larval amphibians may be exacerbated in complex communities. Our data suggest that B. dendrobatidis effects on host life history may be complex and indirect. Direct measurements of the community-level effects of pathogens offer an important opportunity to understand a significant threat to global biodiversity - declining amphibian populations. © Springer-Verlag 2004.

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