Once a reservoir, always a reservoir? Seasonality affects the pathogen maintenance potential of amphibian hosts.


Host species that can independently maintain a pathogen in a host community and contribute to infection in other species are important targets for disease management. However, the potential of host species to maintain a pathogen is not fixed over time, and an important challenge is understanding how within- and across-season variability in host maintenance potential affects pathogen persistence over longer time scales relevant for disease management (e.g., years). Here, we sought to understand the causes and consequences of seasonal infection dynamics in leopard frogs (Rana sphenocephala and R. pipiens) infected with the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). We addressed three questions broadly applicable to seasonal host-parasite systems. First, to what degree are observed seasonal patterns in infection driven by temperature-dependent infection processes compared to seasonal host demographic processes? Second, how does seasonal variation in maintenance potential affect long-term pathogen persistence in multihost communities? Third, does high deterministic maintenance potential relate to the long-term stochastic persistence of pathogens in host populations with seasonal infection dynamics? To answer these questions, we used field data collected over three years on >1400 amphibians across four geographic locations, laboratory and mesocosm experiments, and a novel mathematical model. We found that the mechanisms that drive seasonal prevalence were different than those driving seasonal infection intensity. Seasonal variation in Bd prevalence was driven primarily by changes in host contact rates associated with breeding migrations to and from aquatic habitat. In contrast, seasonal changes in infection intensity were driven by temperature-induced changes in Bd growth rate. Using our model, we found that the maintenance potential of leopard frogs varied significantly throughout the year and that seasonal troughs in infection prevalence made it unlikely that leopard frogs were responsible for long-term Bd persistence in these seasonal amphibian communities, highlighting the importance of alternative pathogen reservoirs for Bd persistence. Our results have broad implications for management in seasonal host-pathogen systems, showing that seasonal changes in host and pathogen vital rates, rather than the depletion of susceptible hosts, can lead to troughs in pathogen prevalence and stochastic pathogen extirpation.