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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jun 7;108(23):9502-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105538108. Epub 2011 May 4.

Coincident mass extirpation of neotropical amphibians with the emergence of the infectious fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.

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Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA 94132-1722, USA.


Amphibians highlight the global biodiversity crisis because ∼40% of all amphibian species are currently in decline. Species have disappeared even in protected habitats (e.g., the enigmatic extinction of the golden toad, Bufo periglenes, from Costa Rica). The emergence of a fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has been implicated in a number of declines that have occurred in the last decade, but few studies have been able to test retroactively whether Bd emergence was linked to earlier declines and extinctions. We describe a noninvasive PCR sampling technique that detects Bd in formalin-preserved museum specimens. We detected Bd by PCR in 83-90% (n = 38) of samples that were identified as positive by histology. We examined specimens collected before, during, and after major amphibian decline events at established study sites in southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. A pattern of Bd emergence coincident with decline at these localities is revealed-the absence of Bd over multiple years at all localities followed by the concurrent emergence of Bd in various species at each locality during a period of population decline. The geographical and chronological emergence of Bd at these localities also indicates a southbound spread from southern Mexico in the early 1970s to western Guatemala in the 1980s/1990s and to Monteverde, Costa Rica by 1987. We find evidence of a historical "Bd epidemic wave" that began in Mexico and subsequently spread to Central America. We describe a technique that can be used to screen museum specimens from other amphibian decline sites around the world.

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