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Evidence of chytrid-mediated population declines in common midwife toad in Serra da Estrela, Portugal


  • Editor: Trent Garner

    Associate Editor: Benedikt Schmidt


Gonçalo M. Rosa, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NR, UK.



The emergence of a novel infectious disease, chytridiomycosis, is now widely recognized as a major cause of amphibian declines and biodiversity loss across local and global scales. Amphibian mortalities caused by the pathogenic chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) were first recorded in Iberia, Europe over a decade ago. In August 2009, hundreds of post-metamorphic common midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) were found dead in the water and margins of a pond in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, north-central Portugal. Histological and genetic analyses confirmed their infection with Bd. Given the likelihood of a new outbreak of chytridiomycosis, we evaluated the possible impacts of this disease on populations of A. obstetricans within the Park by conducting field surveys during 2010 and 2011. We compared the present distribution and abundance of A. obstetricans with historical records, and quantified the present prevalence and intensity of infection by Bd. Results showed that (1) A. obstetricans disappeared from 67% of the 1 × 1 km squares where it was recorded in the past, (2) breeding is currently limited to 16% of the confirmed breeding sites in the past, and that (3) larvae are now less abundant, as well as are highly infected by Bd in the remaining sites. These effects were most pronounced at altitudes above 1200 m. Our findings suggest that an outbreak of chytridiomycosis is responsible for the rapid decline of A. obstetricans in Serra da Estrela, and we believe that urgent conservation measures are needed to prevent local extinction of the species.