Locality, time and heterozygosity affect chytrid infection in yellow-bellied toads
The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) infects numerous amphibian species worldwide and is suggested to drive population declines and extinction events. We report a study of Bd infection at the northernmost distribution of the European yellow-bellied toad Bombina variegata. A total of 577 individuals from ponds in 16 study sites were sampled for DNA and Bd throughout the breeding season. Microsatellite genotyping revealed 3 genetic clusters for the host B. variegata with an overall low genetic diversity. One of the clusters displayed a low microsatellite heterozygosity, a high inbreeding coefficient as well as high Bd infection prevalence and intensities. Multi-model estimates identified site, time of sampling, and heterozygosity to be important predictors of an individual's Bd infection status, and identified a strong effect of site on individual Bd infection intensity. The study site effects are suggestive of localized infection peaks, and the increase of individual Bd infection probabilities towards the end of the sampling period suggests cumulative infection during the breeding season. This study highlights the need for regular monitoring of Bd infection variables at multiple localities and times to gain insights into Bd dynamics. Due to the detected relationship between individual Bd infection status and heterozygosity, conservation measures should focus on the maintenance of high genetic diversity and connectivity within and among amphibian populations.