A new study by a team of scientists specializing in zoology and animal health reported, “analyses found no evidence to support the hypothesis that climate change has been driving outbreaks of amphibian chytridiomycosis.”
The study was published in the peer-reviewed PLoS Biology, a journal of the Public Library of Science:
Karen R. Lips1*, Jay Diffendorfer2, Joseph R. Mendelson III3, Michael W. Sears1
1 Department of Zoology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, United States of America, 2 Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, Illinois, United States of America, 3 Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
We review the evidence for the role of climate change in triggering disease outbreaks of chytridiomycosis, an emerging infectious disease of amphibians. Both climatic anomalies and disease-related extirpations are recent phenomena, and effects of both are especially noticeable at high elevations in tropical areas, making it difficult to determine whether they are operating separately or synergistically. We compiled reports of amphibian declines from Lower Central America and Andean South America to create maps and statistical models to test our hypothesis of spatiotemporal spread of the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), and to update the elevational patterns of decline in frogs belonging to the genus Atelopus. We evaluated claims of climate change influencing the spread of Bd by including error into estimates of the relationship between air temperature and last year observed. Available data support the hypothesis of multiple introductions of this invasive pathogen into South America and subsequent spread along the primary Andean cordilleras. Additional analyses found no evidence to support the hypothesis that climate change has been driving outbreaks of amphibian chytridiomycosis, as has been posited in the climate-linked epidemic hypothesis. Future studies should increase retrospective surveys of museum specimens from throughout the Andes and should study the landscape genetics of Bd to map fine-scale patterns of geographic spread to identify transmission routes and processes.
Once introduced, diseases may spread quickly through new areas, infecting naive host populations, such as has been documented in Ebola virus in African primates or rabies in North American mammals. What drives the spread of the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes chytridiomycosis, is of particular concern because it has contributed to the global decline of amphibians. We modeled the spatiotemporal pattern of the loss of upland amphibian populations in Central and South America as a proxy for the arrival of Bd and found that amphibian declines in Central and South America are best explained by Bd spreading through upland populations; we identified four separate introductions of Bd into South America. Climate change seriously threatens biodiversity and influences endemic host–pathogen systems, but we found no evidence that climate change has been driving outbreaks of chytridiomycosis, as has been posited in the climate-linked epidemic hypothesis. Our findings further strengthen the spreading-pathogen hypothesis proposed for Central America, and identify new evidence for similar patterns of decline in South American amphibians. Our results will inform management and research efforts related to Bd and other invasive species, as effective conservation actions depend on correctly identifying essential threats to biodiversity, and possible synergistic interactions.