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Keywords:

  • Amphibian declines;
  • Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis;
  • Costa Rica;
  • climatic refuge;
  • Guanacaste;
  • Maxent

ABSTRACT

Aim  We use novel data on the occurrence of the amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Costa Rica to model its potential distribution in that country.

Location  Lowland and montane areas of Costa Rica.

Methods  We use published and new data on the presence of B. dendrobatidis on 647 amphibians (35 species). Screening was performed through histological techniques by which 156 sites were surveyed. Of these, 21 were found to have the amphibian chytrid. Maxent, a presence-only distribution modelling technique, was used to create 100 predictions of B. dendrobatidis occurrence, of which the most accurate 10 (based on area under the receiver-operating characteristic curve) were chosen to create a composite distribution model. This approach increased confidence in model predictions, distinguishing areas of high probability of occurrence and low variability across model runs (higher confidence) from those with high probability but high variability (lower confidence).

Results  Predicted distribution patterns were not uniform along Costa Rica's mountains, where most amphibian declines have occurred. The pathogen was predicted to occur with greater probability on the Caribbean slopes than on the Pacific slopes. While high temperature seems to constrain the distribution of the pathogen, areas that also have small amounts of rainfall during the driest period of the year were predicted to have low probability of B. dendrobatidis occurrence.

Main conclusions  The model predicts that the Santa Elena Peninsula and the Central Valley have low probabilities of B. dendrobatidis occurrence, suggesting that they could function as refuges for amphibians. In such refugial areas, one could expect B. dendrobatidis to be absent, or to be present in low abundance (rendering an epidemic outbreak of chytridiomycosis unlikely). Craugastor ranoides, which belongs to a group of frogs particularly sensitive to chytridiomycosis outbreaks, persists in the hot and seasonally dry Santa Elena Peninsula but disappeared in the nearby colder and more humid Guanacaste Volcanic Chain. This information suggests that climatic refuges, where environmental conditions prevent disease outbreaks, could be an important component in amphibian conservation.