Oecologia

, Volume 184, Issue 4, pp 825–833 | Cite as

Disease-associated change in an amphibian life-history trait

  • Benjamin C. Scheele
  • Lee F. Skerratt
  • David A. Hunter
  • Sam C. Banks
  • Jennifer C. Pierson
  • Don A. Driscoll
  • Philip G. Byrne
  • Lee Berger
Population ecology – original research

Abstract

Emerging pathogens can drive evolutionary shifts in host life-history traits, yet this process remains poorly documented in vertebrate hosts. Amphibian chytridiomycosis, caused by infection with the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is the worst recorded wildlife disease and has caused the extinction of over 100 species across multiple continents. A similar number of additional species have experienced mass declines and Bd remains a major source of mortality in many populations of declined species now persisting with the pathogen. Life-history theory predicts that increased extrinsic mortality in Bd-infected populations may alter amphibian life-history traits, but this has not been examined. Here, we investigate whether population Bd status is associated with age and size at maturity by comparing long-exposed Bd-infected populations, Bd-free populations, and museum specimens collected prior to Bd emergence for the endangered Australian frog Litoria verreauxii alpina. We show that Bd-infected populations have a higher proportion of males that mature at 1 year of age, and females that mature at 2 years of age, compared to Bd-free populations. Earlier maturation was associated with reduced size at maturity in males. Consistent with life-history theory, our findings may represent an adaptive evolutionary shift towards earlier maturation in response to high Bd-induced mortality. To our knowledge, this study provides the first evidence for a post-metamorphic Bd-associated shift in an amphibian life-history trait. Given high mortality in other Bd-challenged species, we suggest that chytridiomycosis may be a substantial new selection pressure shaping life-history traits in impacted amphibian species across multiple continents.

Keywords

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis Chytrid fungus Maturation rates Pathogen Wildlife disease 

Supplementary material

442_2017_3911_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (220 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 219 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin C. Scheele
    • 1
    • 7
  • Lee F. Skerratt
    • 1
  • David A. Hunter
    • 2
  • Sam C. Banks
    • 3
  • Jennifer C. Pierson
    • 3
    • 4
  • Don A. Driscoll
    • 5
  • Philip G. Byrne
    • 6
  • Lee Berger
    • 1
  1. 1.One Health Research Group, College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.NSW Office of Environment and HeritageAlburyAustralia
  3. 3.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  4. 4.Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, ACT GovernmentTharwaAustralia
  5. 5.School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Integrative EcologyDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia
  6. 6.School of Biological Sciences, The Institute for Conservation Biology and Environmental ManagementUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  7. 7.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyActonAustralia

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