The novel fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (chytrid) is one of the greatest threats to amphibians worldwide. Small increases in water salinity (up to ca. 4 ppt) have been shown to limit chytrid transmission between frogs, potentially providing a way to create environmental refugia to reduce its impact at a landscape scale. However, the effect of increasing water salinity on tadpoles, a life stage confined to water, is highly variable. Increased water salinity can lead to reduced size and altered growth patterns in some species, with flow-on effects to vital rates such as survival and reproduction. It is thus important to assess potential trade-offs caused by increasing salinity as a tool to mitigate chytrid in susceptible frogs. We conducted laboratory experiments to examine the effects of salinity on the survival and development of tadpoles of a threatened frog (Litoria aurea), previously demonstrated as a suitable candidate for trialling landscape manipulations to mitigate chytrid. We exposed tadpoles to salinity ranging from 1 to 6 ppt and measured survival, time to metamorphosis, body mass and locomotor performance of post-metamorphic frogs as a measure of fitness. Survival and time to metamorphosis did not differ between salinity treatments or controls reared in rainwater. Body mass was positively associated with increasing salinity in the first 14 days. Juvenile frogs from three salinity treatments also showed the same or better locomotor performance compared to rainwater controls, confirming that environmental salinity may influence life history traits in the larval stage, potentially as a hormetic response. Our research suggests that salt concentrations in the range previously shown to improve survival of frogs in the presence of chytrid are unlikely to impact larval development of our candidate threatened species. Our study lends support to the idea of manipulating salinity to create environmental refugia from chytrid for at least some salt-tolerant species.
|Number of pages
|Journal of Comparative Physiology B: biochemical, systemic, and environmental physiology
|Early online date
|22 Feb 2023
|Published - Mar 2023