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Decline and re-expansion of an amphibian with high prevalence of chytrid fungus
- Scheele, Ben C., Guarino, Fiorenzo, Osborne, William, Hunter, David A., Skerratt, Lee F., Driscoll, Don A.
- Biological conservation 2014 v.170 pp. 86-91
- Litoria, coarse woody debris, extinction, frogs, fungi, habitat conservation, habitats, pandemic, pathogens
- The disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is a key driver of global amphibian declines. While chytridiomycosis can cause extinction, many susceptible species persist after an initial period of decline, albeit with reduced abundance and distribution. Emerging evidence indicates that amphibian abundance can recover within remnant populations, but to date, the capacity of amphibian populations to re-expand into historically occupied habitat has received limited research attention. We surveyed 145 sites in 2011 and 2012 to determine if populations of the whistling tree frog (Litoria verreauxii verreauxii) have re-expanded compared with historical data from 1975–1976, 1990 and 1996. L. v. verreauxii underwent a major range contraction likely caused by chytridiomycosis between the first two time periods. Populations have recently re-expanded, with 39 new sites colonised despite high prevalence of Bd. We suspect that changes in disease dynamics have resulted in the increased coexistence of L. v. verreauxii and Bd. Habitat attributes at sites that retained frogs for the duration of the study indicate that high quality habitat may contribute to buffering against population level effects of Bd. Colonised sites had more coarse woody debris, suggesting a possible habitat management strategy to encourage range expansion for this species. Given sufficient time and adequate source populations in high quality habitat, it is possible that other amphibian species may re-expand from chytridiomycosis-induced declines. This provides an impetus for the protection of historical, but currently unoccupied amphibian habitats and highlights the importance of maintaining high quality habitat to help species survive novel shocks such as pandemic diseases.