Members of the genus Ranavirus (family Iridoviridae) can cause catastrophic mortality of pond-breeding amphibians and are associated with an emerging infectious disease that may be contributing to amphibian declines. We conducted three experiments to examine factors that may affect transmission both within and between local breeding populations of the wood frog (Rana sylvatica). In a laboratory study, when exposed to moribund tadpoles collected during a local ranaviral die-off, uninfected tadpoles died as soon as 4 days after exposure. The onset of death was accelerated when tadpoles were allowed to scavenge on carcasses of infected tadpoles. In a mesocosm experiment that was conducted in outdoor wading pools, die-offs of tadpoles began approximately 19 days after infected tadpoles were added to pools containing uninfected tadpoles. Mass die-offs with greater than 98% mortality occurred in all pools, regardless of the initial tadpole density. In a second mesocosm experiment, the addition of water and bottom sediments that were collected from a pond during a ranaviral die-off did not result in lower tadpole survival or growth relative to controls. Only a small percentage of tadpoles appeared to be sick, and most tadpoles survived until the first individuals began metamorphosing within a pool. However, tests for ranavirus using polymerase chain reaction were positive for most pools that received contaminated sediment, suggesting that some infections were sublethal. Our results indicate that transmission within ponds is enhanced by scavenging and that spread between local ponds could occur via the transport of contaminated sediment by animals or humans.
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