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Hossack, Blake R., Oja, Emily B., Owens, Audrey K., Hall, David, Cobos, Cassidi, Crawford, Catherine L., Goldberg, Caren S., et al. 2023. “ Empirical Evidence for Effects of Invasive American Bullfrogs on Occurrence of Native Amphibians and Emerging Pathogens.” Ecological Applications 33(2): e2785.


Invasive species and emerging infectious diseases are two of the greatest threats to biodiversity. American Bullfrogs (Rana [Lithobates] catesbeiana),which have been introduced to many parts of the world, are often linked with declines in native amphibians via predation and the spread of emerging pathogens such as amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis [Bd])and rana viruses. Although many studies have investigated the potential role of bullfrogs in the decline of native amphibians, analyses that account for shared habitat affinities and imperfect detection have found limited support for clear effects. Similarly, the role of bullfrogs in shaping the patch-level distribution of pathogens is unclear. We used eDNA methods to sample 233 sites in the southwestern USA and Sonora, Mexico (2016–2018) to estimate how the presence of bullfrogs affects the occurrence of four native amphibians, Bd, and rana viruses. Based on two-species, dominant-subordinate occupancy models fitted in a Bayesian context, federally threatened Chiricahua Leopard Frogs (Rana chiricahuensis) and Western Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium) were eight times (32% vs. 4%) and two times (36% vs. 18%), respectively, less likely to occur at sites where bullfrogs occurred. Evidence for the negative effects of bullfrogs on Lowland Leopard Frogs (Rana yavapaiensis)and Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) was less clear, possibly because of smaller numbers of sites where these native species still occurred and because bullfrogs often occur at lower densities in streams, the primary habitat for Lowland Leopard Frogs. At the community level, Bd was most likely to occur where bullfrogs co-occurred with native amphibians, which could increase the risk to native species. Rana viruses were estimated to occur at 33% of bullfrog only sites, 10% of sites where bullfrogs and native amphibians co-occurred, and only 3% of sites where only native amphibians occurred. Of the 85 sites where we did not detect any of the five target amphibian species, we also did not detect Bd or rana viruses; this suggests other hosts do not drive the distribution of these pathogens in our study area. Our results provide landscape-scale evidence that bullfrogs reduce the occurrence of native amphibians and increase the occurrence of pathogens, information that can clarify risks and aid the prioritization of conservation actions.