The occurrence of the pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) in the feet of live waterfowl has been documented, but the potential role of birds as dispersers has not been studied. We report the presence of Bd in the feet of preserved aquatic birds in the Bolivian high Andes during the time of drastic amphibian declines in the country. We sampled 48 aquatic birds from the Bolivian Andes that were preserved in museum collections. Birds were sampled for the presence of Bd DNA by swabbing, taking small pieces of tissue from toe webbing, or both. We detected Bd by DNA using quantitative PCR in 42% of the birds sampled via toe tissue pieces. This method was significantly better than swabbing at detecting Bd from bird feet. We confirmed Bd presence by sequencing Bd–positive samples and found 91–98% homology with Bd sequences from GenBank. Our study confirms that aquatic birds can carry Bd and thus may serve as potential vectors of this pathogen across large distances and complex landscapes. In addition, we recommend using DNA from preserved birds as a novel source of data to test hypotheses on the spread of chytridiomycosis in amphibians.
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Vol. 53 • No. 2