Behaviour of Australian rain forest stream frogs may affect the transmission of chytridiomycosis
The amphibian disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has been implicated in mass mortalities, population declines and extinctions of amphibians around the world. In almost all cases, amphibian species that have disappeared or declined due to chytridiomycosis coexist with non-declining species. One reason why some species decline from chytridiomycosis and others do not may be interspecific differences in behaviour. Host behaviour could either facilitate or hinder pathogen transmission, and transmission rates in the field are likely to vary among species according the frequency of factors such as physical contact between frogs, contact with infected water and contact with environmental substrates containing B. dendrobatidis.
We tracked 117 frogs (28 Litoria nannotis, 27 L. genimaculata and 62 L. lesueuri) at 5 sites where B. dendrobatidis is endemic in the rainforest of tropical northern Queensland and recorded the frequency of frog-to-frog contact and the frequency of contact with stream water and environmental substrates. Frequency of contact with other frogs and with water were highest in L. nannotis, intermediate in L. genimaculata and lowest in L. lesueueri. Environmental substrate use also differed among species. These species-specific opportunities for disease transmission were correlated with conservation status: L. nannotis is the species most susceptible to chytridiomycosis-related declines and L. lesueuri is the least susceptible. Interspecific variation in transmission probability may, therefore, play a large role in determining why chytridiomycosis drives some populations to extinction and not others.
KEY WORDS: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis · Amphibian chytrid fungus · Chytridiomycosis · Disease transmission · Behaviour · Frogs