DAO 74:159-164 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/dao074159

Relationships among size, development, and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis infection in African tadpoles

Kevin G. Smith1,2,*, Ché Weldon1, Werner Conradie1, Louis H. du Preez1

1Zoology, School of Environmental Sciences and Development, North-West University, Private Bag x6001, Potchefstroom 2520, South Africa
2Present address: Department of Biology, Box 1229, Washington University in St. Louis, 1 Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA

ABSTRACT: The fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis contributes to the global decline of amphibians. Although mortality from B. dendrobatidis infections occurs primarily in postmetamorphic individuals, infected tadpoles may suffer reduced growth and developmental rates as a result of oral chytridiomycosis, possibly affecting adult fitness. We conducted a field study in which we examined South African tadpoles for oral chytridiomycosis and compared the body sizes of infected and uninfected individuals of 2 species, Heleophryne natalensis and Strongylopus hymenopus. Presence of B. dendrobatidis was determined by microscopic inspection of mouthparts. Infection prevalence was high in both species, 62.5 and 38.6%, respectively, and infected individuals were significantly larger in both species. The inclusion of developmental stage in the analysis of S. hymenopus body size eliminated the relationship between body size and infection status, suggesting that differences in body size were not due to differences in growth, but to differences in developmental stage of infected larvae. These results suggest that larvae at more advanced developmental stages are more likely to be infected with B. dendrobatidis and that infection in larval amphibians may be dependent on time or developmental status of larvae. Contrary to the results of past studies, there was no evidence that oral chytridiomycosis resulted in decreased growth of tadpoles, despite the occurrence of oral abnormalities in infected individuals of 1 species. Because tadpole performance can subsequently affect the health of anuran populations and because tadpoles can act as reservoirs of infection, the study of B. dendrobatidis in larval amphibians is important to understanding the effects of this emerging disease.

KEY WORDS: Oral chytridiomycosis · Amphibian chytrid · Life history · Growth · Development · Amphibian conservation

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