Abstract

The fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is implicated in global declines of amphibian populations and has been documented in African specimens originally collected as far back as the 1930s. Numerous recent surveys focusing on regional pathogen prevalence have greatly increased the number of known occurrences of Bd in African species, but few studies have focused on continental distribution patterns. We analyzed all known positive occurrences of Bd in African amphibians to date, including newly reported data from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Namibia, and the Republic of the Congo. Records from both Namibia and the Republic of the Congo reported herein represent first positive occurrences for these countries. With this most comprehensive sampling of the African continent to date we identified patterns of Bd-positive occurrences associated with (1) location (i.e., biogeographic region, country), (2) taxonomy, (3) life history, and (4) threat of extinction. We used fine-grained (30 arc seconds) environmental niche models (ENMs) to predict the continental distribution of Bd and identify hotspots for the pathogen, including areas not previously modeled to have high suitability for the fungus, and areas of high amphibian biodiversity from which Bd has not yet been documented. Our ENMs predicted that the environmentally suitable range of Bd encompasses vast areas of high amphibian biodiversity, including the Congo Basin and the Albertine Rift. Although our ENMs indicated that West Africa is environmentally suitable for Bd, the fungus has not been reported west of the Dahomey Gap. Likewise, the ENMs also identified regions across the Congo Basin and coastal Angola that are environmentally suitable for the pathogen but from which Bd has not yet been reported, underscoring a need for Bd surveys in these regions. Although amphibian declines in Africa have not been directly attributed to chytridiomycosis, Bd has been detected in over one fifth of the most-threatened African amphibians. Given the presence of the hypervirulent Bd global panzootic lineage (BdGPL) in Africa, we believe that the threat of Bd as a novel pathogen may be underestimated and that focused research is urgently needed to identify which species are susceptible to Bd-driven declines.

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