PerspectiveEcology

Change is key to frog survival

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Science  30 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6383, pp. 1458-1459
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat1996

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Summary

Outbreaks of infectious wildlife diseases often reduce host population size, but rarely cause extinction. An exception is the ongoing global decline of amphibians (1). A pathogenic chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), may affect amphibian species little to not at all, predictably reduce population size, or have a role in extinction (2). On page 1517 of this issue, Voyles et al. (3) report that at three sites in Panamá, amphibian population sizes declined substantially, and most species went missing after the chytrid fungus emerged in their habitats. However, other frog species survived as Bd became endemic (see the figure). Only 9 frog species to date (∼12% of species before the fungus arrived) returned to population levels approaching those estimated before Bd emerged (4). Voyles et al. show that the frog species that recovered did so as a result of changes in their traits and not due to a decrease in Bd's pathogenicity.