Amphibian declines: an immunological perspective.


Many, but not all, amphibian populations have been declining on all six continents on which they live. Although habitat destruction, direct application of toxicants, and introduction of predators/competitors are obvious causes of amphibian declines, many amphibians are dying of infectious diseases in relatively pristine habitats on several continents. In this paper, we review the patterns of these disease outbreaks and the characteristics of amphibian immune systems. Hypotheses are presented to explain the apparent susceptibility of amphibians to these pathogens. Natural and man-made factors that can alter amphibian immune responses to pathogens are discussed. Additional research is needed on the biology of the specific pathogens, the pattern of immune responses they elicit, and the nature of environmental stressors that may increase susceptibility to infectious disease.