The role of the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which is the causal agent of chytridiomycosis, in the declines of Central American bolitoglossine salamanders is unknown. Here we establish a swabbing protocol to maximize the detection probability of Bd in salamanders. We then used this protocol to examine captive and wild Mexican bolitoglossine salamanders of 14 different species for the presence of Bd. Of the seven body parts sampled, the pelvic region, hindlimbs, forelimbs, and the ventral side of the tail had the most Bd per surface area and thus might provide the best sampling regions of salamanders to detect Bd infections. Sixteen out of 33 (48%) of the dead captive salamanders had Bd infections and epidermal hyperkeratosis, whereas none of the 28 clinically healthy captive animals were infected. Nine out of 17 (53%) of the wild salamanders carried low zoospore loads of Bd but had no clinical signs of disease. The high prevalence of Bd in dead captive salamanders, its absence in clinically healthy living ones and its presence in wild salamanders is consistent with Bd being involved in recent bolitoglossine population declines, but further studies would be required to draw a causal link.
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This study was funded by a research grant from Ghent University to Pascale Van Rooij (BOF08/24J/004). Polyclonal antibodies against B. dendrobatidis were kindly provided by Dr. Alex D. Hyatt (Australian Animal Health Laboratory, CSIRO, Victoria, Australia). We are grateful to Arnaud Jamin and Eike Amthauer for kindly providing Plethodontid specimens, David Van Rooij (RCMG, Ghent University, Belgium) for providing help in mapping of the sampling localities and two anonymous referees for providing helpful suggestions that greatly improved the manuscript.
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