Chytridiomycosis, an emerging infectious disease caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, threatens anuran populations worldwide. Effects of B. dendrobatidis on frog species are variable. Some species typically develop nonlethal infections and may function as carriers; others typically develop lethal infections that can lead to population declines. Nonlethal infections in the bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) are well-documented. In contrast, recently metamorphosed wood frogs (L. sylvaticus) can die from chytridiomycosis. We conducted an ex-situ experiment between May and July 2010 to determine whether B. dendrobatidis-infected bullfrogs could transmit the fungus to wood frog tadpoles when the two species shared a body of water. We tested for B. dendrobatidis infections with quantitative polymerase chain reactions (qPCR) in a subsample of the wood frog tadpoles and in all metamorphosed wood frogs and compared risk of death of froglets exposed and unexposed to infected bullfrogs. We detected B. dendrobatidis sporadically in subsampled treatment tadpoles (nine of 90, 10%) and frequently in treatment froglets (112 of 113, 99.1%). Pooled risk of froglet death was higher (P<0.001) in treatment enclosures than in control enclosures. Our results indicate that, at the low infection loads bullfrogs tend to carry, swabbing for PCR analyses may underestimate prevalence of B. dendrobatidis in this species. We highlight bullfrog disease screening as a management challenge, especially in light of exotic bullfrog colonies on multiple continents and large-scale global trade in this species. We document the importance of quantifying lethal and sublethal effects of bullfrog vectors on B. dendrobatidis-susceptible species.
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Vol. 48 • No. 3