Age-related differences in susceptibility to infectious disease are known from a wide variety of plant and animal taxonomic groups. For example, the immature immune systems of young vertebrates, along with limited prior exposure to pathogens and behavioral factors, can place juveniles at greater risk of acquiring and succumbing to a pathogen. We studied the ontogenetic susceptibility of terrestrial direct-developing frogs (Eleutherodactylus coqui) to the fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which is responsible for the decline of amphibian species worldwide. By exposing juvenile and adult frogs to the same dose and strain of Bd, we uncovered ontogenetic differences in susceptibility. Froglets exposed to the pathogen had significantly lower survival rates compared with control froglets, while adult frogs largely cleared infection and had survival rates indistinguishable from control frogs, even when exposed to a much higher dose of Bd. The high disease-induced mortality rate of juveniles may explain ongoing population declines in eastern Puerto Rico, where Bd is endemic and juveniles experience higher prevalence and infection intensity compared to adults. Our results have important implications for understanding and modeling the decline, possibly to extinction, of amphibian populations and species.
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Vol. 50 • No. 3