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An interaction between climate change and infectious disease drove widespread amphibian declines
- Cohen, Jeremy M., Civitello, David J., Venesky, Matthew D., McMahon, Taegan A., Rohr, Jason R.
- Global change biology 2019 v.25 no.3 pp. 927-937
- Atelopus zeteki, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, climate change, emerging diseases, frogs, fungi, host-parasite relationships, hosts, mortality, temperature
- Climate change might drive species declines by altering species interactions, such as host–parasite interactions. However, few studies have combined experiments, field data, and historical climate records to provide evidence that an interaction between climate change and disease caused any host declines. A recently proposed hypothesis, the thermal mismatch hypothesis, could identify host species that are vulnerable to disease under climate change because it predicts that cool‐ and warm‐adapted hosts should be vulnerable to disease at unusually warm and cool temperatures, respectively. Here, we conduct experiments on Atelopus zeteki, a critically endangered, captively bred frog that prefers relatively cool temperatures, and show that frogs have high pathogen loads and high mortality rates only when exposed to a combination of the pathogenic chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) and high temperatures, as predicted by the thermal mismatch hypothesis. Further, we tested various hypotheses to explain recent declines experienced by species in the amphibian genus Atelopus that are thought to be associated with B. dendrobatidis and reveal that these declines are best explained by the thermal mismatch hypothesis. As in our experiments, only the combination of rapid increases in temperature and infectious disease could account for the patterns of declines, especially in species adapted to relatively cool environments. After combining experiments on declining hosts with spatiotemporal patterns in the field, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that widespread species declines, including possible extinctions, have been driven by an interaction between increasing temperatures and infectious disease. Moreover, our findings suggest that hosts adapted to relatively cool conditions will be most vulnerable to the combination of increases in mean temperature and emerging infectious diseases.