Declining amphibians might be evolving increased reproductive effort in the face of devastating disease

Brannelly, Laura A., Webb, Rebecca J., Jiang, Zhixuan, Berger, Lee, Skerratt, Lee F., and Grogan, Laura F. (2021) Declining amphibians might be evolving increased reproductive effort in the face of devastating disease. Evolution, 75 (10). pp. 2555-2567.

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The devastating infectious disease chytridiomycosis has caused declines of amphibians across the globe, yet some populations are persisting and even recovering. One understudied effect of wildlife disease is changes in reproductive effort. Here, we aimed to understand if the disease has plastic effects on reproduction and if reproductive effort could evolve with disease endemism. We compared the effects of experimental pathogen exposure (trait plasticity) and population-level disease history (evolution in trait baseline) on reproductive effort using gametogenesis as a proxy in the declining and endangered frog Litoria verreauxii alpina. We found that unexposed males from disease-endemic populations had higher reproductive effort, which is consistent with an evolutionary response to chytridiomycosis. We also found evidence of trait plasticity, where males and females were affected differently by infection: pathogen exposed males had higher reproductive effort (larger testes), whereas females had reduced reproductive effort (smaller and fewer developed eggs) regardless of the population of origin. Infectious diseases can cause plastic changes in the reproductive effort at an individual level, and population-level disease exposure can result in changes to baseline reproductive effort; therefore, individual- and population-level effects of disease should be considered when designing management and conservation programs for threatened and declining species.

Item ID: 70073
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1558-5646
Keywords: Chytridiomycosis, compensatory recruitment, plasticity, reproduction, reproductive evolution, sex-specific stress, terminal investment
Copyright Information: © 2021 The Authors. Evolution © 2021 The Society for the Study of Evolution.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC FT100100375, ARC LP110200240, ARC DP120100811
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Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2022 01:27
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