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Keywords:

  • alpine biodiversity;
  • amphibians;
  • amphibian decline;
  • chytridiomycosis;
  • climate change;
  • deglaciation;
  • ecological succession;
  • Pleurodema;
  • Telmatobius;
  • tropical andes

Abstract

High-alpine life forms and ecosystems exist at the limits of habitable environments, and thus, are especially sensitive to environmental change. Here we report a recent increase in the elevational limit of anurans following glacial retreat in the tropical Peruvian Andes. Three species have colonized ponds in recently deglaciated terrain at new record elevations for amphibians worldwide (5244–5400 m). Two of these species were also found to be infected with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), an emerging fungal pathogen causally associated with global amphibian declines, including the disappearance of several Latin American species. The presence of this pathogen was associated with elevated mortality rates of at least one species. These results represent the first evidence of upward expansion of anurans to newly available habitat brought about by recent deglaciation. Furthermore, the large increase in the upper limit of known Bd infections, previously reported as 4112 m in Ecuador, to 5348 m in this study, also expands the spatial domain of potential Bd pathogenicity to encompass virtually all high elevation anuran habitats in the tropical Andes.