Chytridiomycosis is an emerging infectious disease of amphibians caused by a chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This panzootic does not equally affect all amphibian species within an assemblage; some populations decline, others persist. Little is known about the factors that affect disease resistance. Differences in behavior, life history, biogeography, or immune function may impact survival. We found that an innate immune defense, antimicrobial skin peptides, varied significantly among species within a rainforest stream amphibian assemblage that has not been exposed to B. dendrobatidis. If exposed, all amphibian species at this central Panamanian site are at risk of population declines. In vitro pathogen growth inhibition by peptides from Panamanian species compared with species with known resistance (Rana pipiens and Xenopus laevis) or susceptibility (Bufo boreas) suggests that of the nine species examined, two species (Centrolene prosoblepon and Phyllomedusa lemur) may demonstrate strong resistance, and the other species will have a higher risk of disease-associated population declines. We found little variation among geographically distinct B. dendrobatidis isolates in sensitivity to an amphibian skin peptide mixture. This supports the hypothesis that B. dendrobatidis is a generalist pathogen and that species possessing an innate immunologic defense at the time of disease emergence are more likely to survive.
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Vol. 42 • No. 2