Context. Pathogens with reservoir hosts have been responsible for most disease-induced wildlife extinctions because the decline of susceptible hosts does not cause the decline of the pathogen. The existence of reservoirs for Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis limits population recovery and conservation actions for threatened amphibians. As such, the effect of reservoirs on disease risk within host community assemblages needs to be considered, but rarely is.
Aims. In this study we aimed to determine if amphibian species co-occurring with the green and golden bell frog Litoria aurea, a declining species susceptible to B. dendrobatidis, act as alternate hosts.
Methods. We quantified B. dendrobatidis infection levels, sub-lethal effects on body condition and terminal signs of disease in amphibian communities on Kooragang Island and Sydney Olympic Park in New South Wales, Australia, where two of the largest remaining L. aurea populations persist.
Key results. We found L. aurea carried infections at a similar prevalence (6–38%) to alternate species. Infection loads ranged widely (0.01–11 107.3 zoospore equivalents) and L. aurea differed from only one alternate host species (higher median load in Litoria fallax) at one site. There were no terminal or sub-lethal signs of disease in any species co-occurring with L. aurea.
Conclusion. Our results suggest that co-occurring species are acting as alternate hosts to L. aurea and whether their presence dilutes or amplifies B. dendrobatidis in the community is a priority for future research.
Implications. For L. aurea and many other susceptible species, confirming the existence of reservoir hosts and understanding their role in community disease dynamics will be important for optimising the outcomes of threat mitigation and habitat creation initiatives for their long-term conservation.