Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wyoming
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Barrile, G.M., A.D. Chalfoun, A.W. Walters. 2021. Infection status as the basis for habitat choices in a wild amphibian. American Naturalist 197: 128-137.


Animals challenged with disease may select specifichabitat conditions that help prevent or reduce infection. Whereas preinfection avoidance of habitats with a high risk of disease expo- sure has been documented in both captive and free-ranging animals, evidence of switching habitats after infection to support the clearing of the infection is limited to laboratory experiments. The extent to which wild animals proximately modify habitat choices in response to infection status thus remains unclear. We investigated preinfection behavioral avoidance and postinfection habitat switching using wild, radio-tracked boreal toads (Anaxyrus boreas boreas) in a population challenged with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a pathogenic fungus responsible for a catastrophic panzootic affecting hundreds of amphibian species worldwide. Boreal toads did not preemptively avoid microhabitats with conditions conducive to Bd growth. Infected individuals, however, selected warmer, more open habitats, which were associated with elevated body temperature and the subsequent clear- ing of infection. Our results suggest that disease can comprise an im- portant selective pressure on animal habitat and space use. Habitat selection models, therefore, may be greatly improved by including variables that quantify infection risk and/or the infection status ofindividuals through time.