Seasonal migrations, body temperature fluctuations, and infection dynamics in adult amphibians

PeerJ. 2018 May 8;6:e4698. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4698. eCollection 2018.


Risks of parasitism vary over time, with infection prevalence often fluctuating with seasonal changes in the annual cycle. Identifying the biological mechanisms underlying seasonality in infection can enable better prediction and prevention of future infection peaks. Obtaining longitudinal data on individual infections and traits across seasons throughout the annual cycle is perhaps the most effective means of achieving this aim, yet few studies have obtained such information for wildlife. Here, we tracked spiny common toads (Bufo spinosus) within and across annual cycles to assess seasonal variation in movement, body temperatures and infection from the fungal parasite, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Across annual cycles, toads did not consistently sustain infections but instead gained and lost infections from year to year. Radio-tracking showed that infected toads lose infections during post-breeding migrations, and no toads contracted infection following migration, which may be one explanation for the inter-annual variability in Bd infections. We also found pronounced seasonal variation in toad body temperatures. Body temperatures approached 0 °C during winter hibernation but remained largely within the thermal tolerance range of Bd. These findings provide direct documentation of migratory recovery (i.e., loss of infection during migration) and escape in a wild population. The body temperature reductions that we observed during hibernation warrant further consideration into the role that this period plays in seasonal Bd dynamics.

Keywords: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; Bufo spinosus; Hibernation; Migration.

Grant support

Funding was provided by project CGL2015-70070-R (MINECO/FEDER) and the US Fulbright Commission. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.