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Keywords:

  • amphibian declines;
  • Atelopus zeteki;
  • Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis;
  • chytridiomycosis;
  • climate-linked-epidemic hypothesis

Abstract

Considerable controversy exists concerning whether or not climate changes (particularly global warming) are causing outbreaks of a lethal amphibian pathogen, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Longcore, Pessier & D.K. Nichols 1999). In the present study, groups of Panamanian golden frogs (Atelopus zeteki Dunn, 1993), a critically endangered amphibian thought to be nearly extinct in Panama, were exposed to varying dosages of zoospores of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, temperatures and hydric environments in order to learn whether this species is susceptible to this pathogen and, if so, how environmental factors affect survival. This pathogen proved to be highly lethal for A. zeteki. Frogs exposed to a dosage of 100 Bd zoospores survived significantly (P < 0.0001) longer than those that had been exposed to 104 or 106 zoospores. Exposed frogs housed at 23 °C survived significantly (P < 0.0001) longer than those that were housed at 17 °C. Exposed frogs held in dry conditions survived significantly longer than those in wet conditions (P < 0.0001). As a laboratory study, these results do not directly test hypotheses about the relation between climate change and the decline of these frogs in the field, but they inform the discussion about how environmental conditions can have an impact on the interaction between a susceptible amphibian and this pathogen. These data do not support the contention that rising global temperatures are necessary to cause the death of amphibians infected with this pathogen because the pathogen was equally lethal at 17 as at 23 °C, and frogs at the warmer temperature lived significantly longer than those at the cooler one.