Chytridiomycosis Widespread in Anurans of Northeastern United States




ABSTRACT An emerging disease of amphibians caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been associated with morbidity, mortality, and extinction of species. Typically, researchers have detected B. dendrobatidis only when examining amphibians for causes of mortalities; few data exist on infection rates where mortalities are lacking. During May-September 2000–2002 we obtained amphibian specimens killed by vehicles and others collected at remote off-road sites throughout Maine, USA, and from federal lands in 5 states in the Northeast. We detected infected specimens, mostly green frogs (Rana clamitans), at 5 of 7 national wildlife refuges, a federal waterfowl production area, and Acadia National Park. Seven of 9 species, including all Ranidae species, were infected throughout Maine; rates ranged from 14.6% in American toads (Bufo americanus) to 25.7% in northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens). We did not detect any infections in 50 eastern gray tree frogs (Hyla versicolor) or 21 spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). Species that hibernate in terrestrial habitats seem to have lower rates of infection than species that hibernate in aquatic habitats. Infections peaked in spring and autumn and were associated with air temperatures optimal for B. dendrobatidis growth. The relatively high infection rates among species without documented die-offs suggest that either losses have occurred undetected, that the fungus is endemic and species have attained a level of resistance to infections becoming lethal, or that climatic conditions of the Northeast have a role in preventing infections from being lethal. Data on prevalence and distribution of this chytrid fungus in the Northeast may be useful in modeling its origins and predicting long-term ecosystem effects involving anurans.