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

Barrile, G.M., A. D. Chalfoun, and A.W. Walters. 2021 Livestock grazing, climatic variation, and breeding phenology jointly shape disease dynamics and survival in a wild amphibian. Biological Conservation 261: 109247.


Wildlife responses to infectious disease can be influenced by environmental stressors that alter host-pathogen dynamics. We investigated how livestock grazing, climatic variation, and breeding phenology influence disease prevalence and annual survival in boreal toad (Anaxyrus boreas boreas) populations challenged with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a fungal pathogen implicated in global amphibian declines. We conducted a five-year (2015–2019) capture-recapture study of boreal toads (n = 1301) inhabiting pastures grazed by cattle in western Wyoming, USA. We employed structural equation models to determine whether the effects of climatic variation on Bd prevalence were direct or mediated through effects on breeding phenology and multi-state models to explore the interplay of grazing, weather, and Bd infection on adult survival. Higher winter snowpack was linked with shorter spring breeding seasons, which were associated with lower Bd prevalence. Boreal toads infected with Bd suffered increased mortality, but only at relatively cool temperatures. Although cattle grazing created warmer microclimates, likely by reducing vegetation cover, grazing-induced habitat changes did not scale up to influence adult survival. Our results suggest that boreal toads in cooler environments face increased risk of disease-induced mortality, possibly because infected individuals are not able to elevate body temperature to reduce or clear infection. More generally, we demonstrate that host-pathogen dynamics can be shaped jointly by independent and interactive effects of livestock grazing, breeding season length, and climatic variation. Future investigations of wildlife responses to disease therefore may benefit from considering anthropogenic land use and climatic regimes, including the effect of weather on host phenology.