Parasites have been implicated in mass mortality events and population declines of amphibians around the world. One pathogen associated with mortality events in North America is an Ichthyophonus sp.-like organism that affects red-spotted newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) and several frog species, yet little is known about the distribution of this pathogen in wild populations or the mechanism of transmission. In an effort to identify factors influencing the distribution and abundance of this pathogen, we measured Ichthyophonus sp. prevalence and a series of factors that could contribute to transmission in 16 newt populations during spring 2004. In contrast to our initial hypotheses of trophic transmission, several lines of evidence suggested a role for the amphibian leech (Placobdella picta) in Ichthyophonus sp. transmission. We propose the mechanistic hypothesis that a leech acquires Ichthyophonus sp. infection when inserting its proboscis into the muscles beneath the skin of infected newts and transmits the infection to other newts in subsequent feeding bouts. We also found effects of host sex, body mass, and breeding condition on Ichthyophonus sp. prevalence and the number of attached leeches. The number of leeches attached to newts was strongly related to the proportion of newt habitat containing emergent vegetation, suggesting that anthropogenic eutrophication might lead to more frequent or severe outbreaks of Ichthyophonus sp. infection in amphibians.

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