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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Feb 7;275(1632):329-34.

Persistence of the emerging pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis outside the amphibian host greatly increases the probability of host extinction.

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Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College, Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK.


Pathogens do not normally drive their hosts to extinction; however, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which causes amphibian chytridiomycosis, has been able to do so. Theory predicts that extinction can be caused by long-lived or saprobic free-living stages. The hypothesis that such a stage occurs in B. dendrobatidis is supported by the recent discovery of an apparently encysted form of the pathogen. To investigate the effect of a free-living stage of B. dendrobatidis on host population dynamics, a mathematical model was developed to describe the introduction of chytridiomycosis into a breeding population of Bufo bufo, parametrized from laboratory infection and transmission experiments. The model predicted that the longer that B. dendrobatidis was able to persist in water, either due to an increased zoospore lifespan or saprobic reproduction, the more likely it was that it could cause local B. bufo extinction (defined as decrease below a threshold level). Establishment of endemic B. dendrobatidis infection in B. bufo, with severe host population depression, was also possible, in agreement with field observations. Although this model is able to predict clear trends, more precise predictions will only be possible when the life history of B. dendrobatidis, including free-living stages of the life cycle, is better understood.

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