Landscape context influences chytrid fungus distribution in an endangered European amphibian

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Wildlife disease is an emerging threat to biodiversity. The amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes the disease chytridiomycosis, has been documented in over 500 amphibian species globally. Understanding conditions under which amphibians are vulnerable to Bd is important for evaluating species risk and developing surveillance strategies. Here, we investigate the spatial distribution of Bd infection in the ephemeral pond-breeding yellow-bellied toad Bombina variegata, a species of high conservation concern in the European Union. We sampled 550 toads from 60 ponds in a traditional agricultural landscape in Southern Transylvania, Romania. Overall, Bd prevalence was low in B.variegata, but infected toads were widely dispersed through the landscape and were found in a quarter of all sampled ephemeral ponds. At the pond level, increased Bd occurrence was associated with short distances to perennial water sources and high forest cover. These findings suggest that perennial water sources may act as source habitat for Bd, with amphibian movements resulting in Bd spillover into ephemeral ponds. Increased Bd occurrence in ponds surrounded by high levels of forest cover is likely related to cooler and wetter conditions that are more favourable for Bd. Throughout the study landscape, patchy environmental suitability for Bd appears to restrict the pathogen to a subset of B.variegata habitat. Ephemeral ponds in open landscapes, without nearby perennial habitat, likely provide an environmental refuge from Bd, where the risk of infection is low. From a conservation perspective, these findings highlight the importance of maintaining ephemeral ponds in open landscapes, but these are currently threatened by land-use change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)480-488
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2015