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Shifts in disease dynamics in a tropical amphibian assemblage are not due to pathogen attenuation

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Science  30 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6383, pp. 1517-1519
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4806

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Resistance is not futile

The fungal disease chytridiomycosis has wreaked havoc on amphibians worldwide. The disease is caused by the organism Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and was first identified in the late 1990s. Voyles et al. revisited protected areas in Panama where catastrophic amphibian losses were recorded a decade ago (see the Perspective by Collins). Although disease theory predicts that epidemics should result in reduced pathogenicity, they found no evidence for such a reduction. Despite this, the amphibian community is displaying signs of recovery—including some species presumed extinct after the outbreak. Increased host resistance may be responsible for this recovery.

Science, this issue p. 1517; see also p. 1458

Abstract

Infectious diseases rarely end in extinction. Yet the mechanisms that explain how epidemics subside are difficult to pinpoint. We investigated host-pathogen interactions after the emergence of a lethal fungal pathogen in a tropical amphibian assemblage. Some amphibian host species are recovering, but the pathogen is still present and is as pathogenic today as it was almost a decade ago. In addition, some species have defenses that are more effective now than they were before the epidemic. These results suggest that host recoveries are not caused by pathogen attenuation and may be due to shifts in host responses. Our findings provide insights into the mechanisms underlying disease transitions, which are increasingly important to understand in an era of emerging infectious diseases and unprecedented global pandemics.

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