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Infection risk decreases with increasing mismatch in host and pathogen environmental tolerances

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The fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) has caused the greatest known wildlife pandemic, infecting over 500 amphibian species. It remains unclear why some host species decline from disease-related mortality whereas others persist. We introduce a conceptual model that predicts that infection risk in ectotherms will decrease as the difference between host and pathogen environmental tolerances (i.e. tolerance mismatch) increases. We test this prediction using both local-scale data from Costa Rica and global analyses of over 11 000 Bd infection assays. We find that infection prevalence decreases with increasing thermal tolerance mismatch and with increasing host tolerance of habitat modification. The relationship between environmental tolerance mismatches and Bd infection prevalence is generalisable across multiple amphibian families and spatial scales, and the magnitude of the tolerance mismatch effect depends on environmental context. These findings may help explain patterns of amphibian declines driven by a global wildlife pandemic.

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