Global impacts of disease in amphibians and mechanisms of species persistence

Pathogens are increasingly recognised for their major role in Earth’s ongoing sixth mass extinction event. Fungal pathogens in particular have been implicated in many recent high profile declines. The emerging amphibian pathogen, chytrid fungus, is well-known as a driver of global amphibian declines. However, remarkably, the impact of chytrid fungus on amphibian biodiversity has not been quantified. First, I will provide an overview of the epidemic, reporting results from my recent assessment of the impact of chytrid fungus on the world’s amphibians. I will then outline processes by which certain species have responded to this pathogen; specifically my research has revealed how populations of some affected Australian frog species are able to co-exist with chytrid fungus. Mechanisms include changes in frog demography, life history and variable impacts of reservoir hosts. Finally, I will conclude with some broader insights from studying disease in frogs as to how threats can reshape the niche breadth of declining species.

About the speaker

Dr Ben Scheele is a research ecologist at the Fenner School. He received his PhD in 2015 from The Australian National University and then worked for one year as postdoc at James Cook University, before returning to the Fenner School in 2016. His research focuses on understanding mechanisms that underpin patterns of species decline across the landscape. In particular, much of his empirical work examines disease in frogs in south-eastern Australia. His work is closely linked with management to inform the development of innovative conservation solutions.