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Daphnia in tadpole mesocosms: trophic links and interactions with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis


Phineas T. Hamilton, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 3N5, Canada. E-mail:


1. Amphibians are in decline, and the disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has been repeatedly implicated throughout the world. This chytrid reproduces via an infectious, motile zoospore stage that remains viable for weeks in the water column.

2. Daphnia is a keystone zooplankton grazer in intact freshwater ecosystems, whose importance to amphibians may be overlooked. As an efficient grazer, Daphnia can suppress chytrid epidemics by consuming zoospores and may therefore play a role in Bd infection dynamics. Daphnia may also have important effects on tadpoles by mediating the properties of pond food webs. We tested the role of Daphnia in outdoor mesocosms containing the tadpoles of red-legged frogs (Rana aurora) infected with Bd. We also tested the ability of Daphnia to filter Bd from the water column in laboratory microcosms.

3. In the water of microcosms, Daphnia dramatically decreased the number of Bd genomic equivalents detectable using quantitative PCR. Bd genomic equivalents fell below the limit of detection at very high (>1 Daphnia mL−1) Daphnia densities.

4. In mesocosms, Daphnia was critical to the development of tadpoles: in the presence of Daphnia, tadpoles were twofold heavier at metamorphosis than in their absence. Daphnia and Bd interacted to affect the tadpole survival: survival was highest in the presence of Daphnia and in the absence of Bd. We were unable to detect an effect of Daphnia on the transmission of Bd in mesocosms. However, Bd transmission among the tadpoles in mesocosms was unexpectedly low, limiting our power to detect an effect of Daphnia on transmission.

5. Tadpole dissection showed that tadpoles also consumed large numbers of Daphnia. Current models of mesocosm food webs that assume no predation by tadpoles on zooplankton therefore probably overlook important features of both natural and experimental systems.