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The influence of landscape and environmental factors on ranavirus epidemiology in a California amphibian assemblage

Tornabene, Brian J., Blaustein, Andrew R., Briggs, Cheryl J., Calhoun, Dana M., Johnson, Pieter T. J., McDevitt‐Galles, Travis, Rohr, Jason R., Hoverman, Jason T.
Freshwater biology 2018 v.63 no.7 pp. 639-651
Lithobates catesbeianus, Ranavirus, Taricha, adults, biotic factors, birds, environmental factors, epidemiology, hosts, landscapes, pathogens, ponds, probability, reptiles, salamanders and newts, surveys, variance, California
A fundamental goal of disease ecology is to determine the landscape and environmental processes that drive disease dynamics at different biological levels to guide management and conservation. Although ranaviruses (family Iridoviridae) are emerging amphibian pathogens, few studies have conducted comprehensive field surveys to assess potential drivers of ranavirus disease dynamics. We examined the factors underlying patterns in site‐level ranavirus presence and individual‐level ranavirus infection in 76 ponds and 1,088 individuals representing five amphibian species within the East Bay region of California. Based on a competing‐model approach followed by variance partitioning, landscape and biotic variables explained the most variation in site‐level presence. However, biotic and individual‐level variables explained the most variation in individual‐level infection. Distance to nearest ranavirus‐infected pond (the landscape factor) was more important than biotic factors at the site level; however, biotic factors were most influential at the individual level. At the site level, the probability of ranavirus presence correlated negatively with distance to nearest ranavirus‐positive pond, suggesting that the movement of water or mobile taxa (e.g., adult amphibians, birds, reptiles) may facilitate the movement of ranavirus between ponds and across the landscape. Taxonomic richness associated positively with ranavirus presence at the site level, but vertebrate richness associated negatively with infection prevalence in the host population. This might reflect the contrasting influences of diversity on pathogen colonisation versus transmission among hosts. Amphibian host species differed in their likelihood of ranavirus infection: American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) had the weakest association with infection while rough‐skinned newts (Taricha granulosa) had the strongest. After accounting for host species effects, hosts with greater snout–vent length had a lower probability of infection. Our study demonstrates the array of landscape, environmental, and individual‐level factors associated with ranavirus epidemiology. Moreover, our study helps illustrate that the importance of these factors varies with biological level.