Context. The severity and prevalence of the amphibian fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is correlated with several environmental variables, including salinity, temperature, and moisture content, which influence the pathogen’s growth and survival. Habitats that contain these environmental variables at levels outside of those optimal for Bd growth and survival may facilitate the survival of susceptible host species. Therefore, manipulation of environmental salinity is a potential management strategy to help conserve Bd-susceptible species. However, host behaviour also influences disease dynamics, and the success of habitat manipulation programs depends on how hosts use this altered habitat.
Aims. To assess if the Bd-susceptible green and golden bell frog, Litoria aurea, will select waterbodies with a salinity increased to S = 3; if this selection is affected by infection; and if a frog’s time in a waterbody of this salinity affects infection load or blood physiology.
Methods. We conducted a filmed choice experiment and a 3-year field study where infected and uninfected frogs could choose between fresh or saline waterbodies.
Key results. In both the laboratory experiment and field study, Bd-infected L. aurea spent a significantly greater amount of time in or closer to a waterbody than uninfected frogs. Experimentally infected frogs tended to prefer the saline water over fresh, but their choice of water usage did not differ statistically from uninfected frogs. In the field, frogs began to avoid ponds when salinities rose above S = 5.
Conclusions. Because both wild and captive, and infected and uninfected L. aurea readily selected waterbodies with a salinity of S = 3, this salinity could potentially be used as a passive method for reducing the severity of Bd when managing this species. However, further testing is needed to understand the efficacy of this treatment, and care must be taken to prevent salinities rising above S = 5, because this level seems to produce an avoidance response and therefore may not be suitable in every location.
Implications. Manipulation of aquatic habitats may be a worthwhile focus for Bd management in habitats where water level fluctuations are minimal.