US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Biological Conservation 141 (2008) pp. 1484-1492.


Amphibian populations continue to be imperiled by the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). Understanding where B. dendrobatidis (Bd) occurs and how it may be limited by environmental factors is critical to our ability to effectively conserve the amphibians affected by Bd. We sampled 1247 amphibians (boreal toads and surrogates) at 261 boreal toad (Bufo boreas) breeding sites (97 clusters) along an 11° latitudinal gradient in the Rocky Mountains to determine the distribution of B. dendrobatidis and examine environmental factors, such as temperature and elevation, that might affect its distribution. The fungus was detected at 64% of all clusters and occurred across a range of elevations (1030– 3550 m) and latitudes (37.6–48.6°) but we detected it in only 42% of clusters in the south (site elevations higher), compared to 84% of clusters in the north (site elevations lower). Maximum ambient temperature (daily high) explained much of the variation in Bd occurrence in boreal toad populations and thus perhaps limits the occurrence of the pathogen in the Rocky Mountains to areas where climatic conditions facilitate optimal growth of the fungus. This information has implications in global climate change scenarios where warming temperatures may facilitate the spread of disease into previously un- or little-affected areas (i.e., higher elevations). This study provides the first regional-level, field-based effort to examine the relationship of environmental and geographic factors to the distribution of B. dendrobatidis in North America and will assist managers to focus on at-risk populations as determined by the local temperature regimes, latitude and elevation.