Date of Award

1-1-2009

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Zoology

First Advisor

Lips, Karen

Abstract

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a fungal pathogen causing amphibian population declines. Bd has a narrow thermal tolerance and requires moisture to survive. Differences in frog biology, pathogen biology or temperature and moisture conditions may determine population response to disease. Population responses to Bd vary among sites, habitats, species and populations. In the tropics, stream-dwelling species decline to a greater degree than forest species, yet not all stream species decline to extirpation and not all forest species survive. I hypothesized that variation in operative temperature (Te) or body temperature (Tb) might explain differences in host population change documented among sites, seasons, habitats, and species. I sampled three moist-forest Panamanian sites (elevation 375 - 1300 m) during 2.5 months of the 2008 wet season and four different moist-forest sites (elevation 400 - 1300 m) during 3 weeks of the 2008 dry season. I measured Te and Tb of anurans along stream and forest transects. Additional environmental variables such as height, substrate, canopy cover and sunfleck presence were measured concomitantly. I used analysis of covariance to determine whether these factors influenced Te and Tb. I compared frequency distributions of Tb and Te to a Bd thermal growth curve to determine: 1) whether temperatures above Bd's critical thermal maximum were available to frogs, and 2) whether populations of species that have declined occupied habitats more frequently in Bd's optimal thermal range than species that have not. Te and Tb differed among sites, with cooler temperatures at higher elevation. Te was cooler during the dry season yet the presence of sunflecks and open canopy had greater effect on Te during the dry season. Within a site, Te and Tb were not different between habitats. Within a site, Tb did not vary among species. Average Te and Tb for all sites fell within Bd's thermal tolerance range, but the low elevation sites had Tb ranges extending above Bd's critical thermal maximum. Although temperature may explain greater losses at higher elevations, I found no significant difference in operative temperatures between stream and forest habitats at any site which indicates that temperature alone does not explain greater losses of stream anurans. Species that have declined to extirpation elsewhere did not consistently have cooler body temperatures compared to surviving species. Within the Neotropics, moisture, instead of temperature, may explain patterns of Bd prevalence among seasons, habitats, and species.

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