Larval exposure to predator cues alters immune function and response to a fungal pathogen in post-metamorphic wood frogs.


For the past several decades, amphibian populations have been decreasing around the globe at an unprecedented rate. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the fungal pathogen that causes chytridiomycosis in amphibians, is contributing to amphibian declines. Natural and anthropogenic environmental factors are hypothesized to contribute to these declines by reducing the immunocompetence of amphibian hosts, making them more susceptible to infection. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) produced in the granular glands of a frog's skin are thought to be a key defense against Bd infection. These peptides may be a critical immune defense during metamorphosis because many acquired immune functions are suppressed during this time. To test if stressors alter AMP production and survival of frogs exposed to Bd, we exposed wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) tadpoles to the presence or absence of dragonfly predator cues crossed with a single exposure to three nominal concentrations of the insecticide malathion (0, 10, or 100 parts per billion [ppb]). We then exposed a subset of post-metamorphic frogs to the presence or absence of Bd zoospores and measured frog survival. Although predator cues and malathion had no effect on survival or size at metamorphosis, predator cues increased the time to metamorphosis by 1.5 days and caused a trend of a 20% decrease in hydrophobic skin peptides. Despite this decrease in peptides determined shortly after metamorphosis, previous exposure to predator cues increased survival in both Bd-exposed and unexposed frogs several weeks after metamorphosis. These results suggest that exposing tadpoles to predator cues confers fitness benefits later in life.