Population dynamics of the critically endangered toad <i>Atelopus cruciger</i> and the fungal disease chytridiomycosis
by Margarita Lampo, Celsa Señaris, Carmen Zulay GarcíaHarlequin toads (Atelopus) are among the most severely impacted amphibians by the emergence of chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Many species disappeared while others suffered drastic contractions of their geographic distribution to lower altitudes. A diminished virulence of Bd in warm habitats was proposed to explain the survival of lowland populations of harlequin toads (i.e. thermal refuge hypothesis). To understand the mechanisms that allow some populations to reach an endemic equilibrium with this pathogen, we estimated demographic and epidemiological parameters at one remnant population of Atelopus cruciger in Venezuela using mark-recapture data from 2007–2013. We demonstrated that Bd is highly virulent for A. cruciger, increasing the odds of dying of infected adults four times in relation to uninfected ones and reducing the life expectancy of reproductive toads to a few weeks. Despite an estimated annual loss of 18% of the reproductive population due to Bd-induced mortality, this population has persisted in an endemic equilibrium for the last decade through the large recruitment of healthy adults every year. Given the high vulnerability of harlequin toads to Bd in lowland populations, thermal refuges need to be redefined as habitats of reduced transmission rather than attenuated virulence.
Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article
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