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Introduced bullfrog facilitates pathogen invasion in the western United States.


Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a causal agent of the amphibian fungal skin disease chytridiomycosis, has been implicated in the decline and extinction of over 200 species worldwide since the 1970s. Despite almost two decades of research, the history of Bd and its global spread is not well understood. However, the spread of the Global Panzootic Lineage of Bd (Bd-GPL), the lineage associated with amphibian die-offs, has been linked with the American bullfrog (Rana [Aqurana] catesbeiana) and global trade. Interestingly, R. catesbeiana is native to the eastern U.S., where no Bd-related declines have been observed despite Bd's presence since the late 1800s. In contrast Bd has been found to have emerged in California and Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s, after which epizootics (i.e., epidemics in wildlife) ensued. We hypothesize that Bd-GPL spread from the eastern U.S. with the introduction of R. catesbeiana into the western US, resulting in epizootics and declines of native host species. Using museum records, we investigated the historical relationship between R. catesbeiana and Bd invasion in the western US and found that R. catesbeiana arrived in the same year or prior to Bd in most western watersheds that had data for both species, suggesting that Bd-GPL may have originated in the eastern US and R. catesbeiana may have facilitated Bd invasion in the western US. To predict areas with greatest suitability for Bd, we created a suitability model by integrating habitat suitability and host availability. When we incorporated invasion history with high Bd suitability, we found that watersheds with non-native R. catesbeiana in the mountain ranges of the West Coast have the highest disease risk. These findings shed light on the invasion history and disease dynamics of Bd in North America. Targeted historical surveys using archived specimens in natural history collections and present-day field surveys along with more localized, community-level studies, monitoring, and surveillance are needed to further test this hypothesis and grow our understanding of the disease ecology and host-pathogen dynamics of Bd.

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