The pathogenic chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has been implicated as the main driver of many enigmatic amphibian declines in neotropical sites at high elevation. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is thought to be a waterborne pathogen limited by temperature, and the extent to which it persists and causes disease in amphibians at lower elevations in the neotropics is not known. It also is unclear by what mechanism(s) B. dendrobatidis has emerged as a pathogenic organism. To test whether B. dendrobatidis is limited by elevation in Panamá, we sought to determine the prevalence and intensity of B. dendrobatidis in relation to anuran abundance and diversity using quantitative PCR (qPCR) analyses. Sites were situated at varying elevations, from 45 to 1215 m, and were at varying stages of epizootic amphibian decline, including pre-epizootic, mid-epizootic, 2 years post-epizootic, and 10 years post-epizootic. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis was found in all sites regardless of elevation or stage of epizootic decline. Levels of prevalence and infection intensity were comparable across all sites except at the mid-epizootic site, where both prevalence and intensity were significantly higher than at other sites. Symptoms of chytridiomycosis and corresponding declines in amphibian populations were variably seen at all elevations along a post-epizootic gradient. Because it is inherently difficult to prove a negative proposition, it can neither be proven that B. dendrobatidis is truly not present where it is not detected nor proven that it is only recently arrived where it is detected. Thus, there will always be doubts about whether B. dendrobatidis is enzootic or invasive. In any case, our results, coupled with current knowledge, suggest most clearly that the disease, chytridiomycosis, may be novel and invasive, and that the pathogen, B. dendrobatidis either is, or is becoming, globally ubiquitous.
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We thank Julie Ray, Gisela Reina, Andrew Crawford, Vicky Flechas, Kate and Dave Turner, Sky Oestreicher, Erin Trimble, Dustin Raab, Peter McGaw, Amanda Kilburn, César and Fidel Jaramillo, and Frank Solís for help in the field and Anne Bramard (Genome Quebec) and Catherine Brisson for help with the molecular analyses. This research was supported by an NSERC CGS M grant to VLK and an NSERC Canada Discovery Grant to DMG.
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Kilburn, V.L., Ibáñez, R., Sanjur, O. et al. Ubiquity of the Pathogenic Chytrid Fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, in Anuran Communities in Panamá. EcoHealth 7, 537–548 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-010-0634-1
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