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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 144:89-98 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03576

Ranavirus is widespread in Costa Rica and co-occurs with threatened amphibians

Steven M. Whitfield1,2,*, Gilbert Alvarado-Barboza3, Juan G. Abarca4, Hector Zumbado-Ulate5, Randall R. Jimenez6, Jacob Kerby7

1Zoo Miami, Conservation and Research Department, Miami, FL 33177, USA
2Florida International University, School of Environment, Arts, and Society, Miami, FL 33199, USA
3Universidad de Costa Rica, Escuela de Biologıa, San Pedro, Costa Rica
4Laboratorio de Recursos Naturales y Vida Silvestre (LARNAVISI), Escuela de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica
5Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
6Center for Conservation Genomics, Smithsonian National Zoological Park & Conservation Biology Institute, Washington, DC 20008, USA
7University of South Dakota, Biology Department, Vermillion, SD 57069, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Amphibians are globally threatened by emerging infectious diseases, and ranaviruses are among the most concerning pathogens to threaten species in the wild. We sampled for ranaviruses in wild amphibians at 8 sites in Costa Rica, spanning broad climatic zones and taxonomic associations. Seven of these sites are inhabited by highly threatened amphibian species that persist at low global population sizes after population declines due to amphibian chytridiomycosis. One of the surveyed sites is occupied by an introduced amphibian species, which is relatively rare in Central America but may be an important pathway for long-distance transport of ranaviruses. We detected ranavirus using quantitative polymerase chain reaction in 16.3% of the 243 individuals and among 5 of our 8 sites, but not at the site with the introduced species. Infection prevalence varied among species and sites, but not with mean annual temperature or mean annual precipitation. Infection intensity did not vary with species, site, temperature, or precipitation. Our results show that ranavirus infection is spatially widespread in Costa Rica, affecting a broad range of host species, and occurs across climatic zones—though we encountered no mortality or morbidity in our sampled species. Ranaviruses are known to cause intermittent mass mortality in amphibian populations, and the threatened species sampled here are likely vulnerable to population impacts from emerging ranaviruses. Therefore, we believe the potential impacts of ranaviruses on amphibian populations in tropical regions have likely been underestimated, and that they should be viewed as a potential major stressor to threatened amphibians in tropical regions.


KEY WORDS: Iridovirus · Emerging infectious diseases · Frogs · Pathogen surveillance · Central America · Tropical forest


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Cite this article as: Whitfield SM, Alvarado-Barboza G, Abarca JG, Zumbado-Ulate H, Jimenez RR, Kerby J (2021) Ranavirus is widespread in Costa Rica and co-occurs with threatened amphibians. Dis Aquat Org 144:89-98. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03576

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