Population trends associated with skin peptide defenses against chytridiomycosis in Australian frogs.


Many species of amphibians in the wet tropics of Australia have experienced population declines linked with the emergence of a skin-invasive chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. An innate defense, antimicrobial peptides produced by granular glands in the skin, may protect some species from disease. Here we present evidence that supports this hypothesis. We tested ten synthesized peptides produced by Australian species, and natural peptide mixtures from five Queensland rainforest species. Natural mixtures and most peptides tested in isolation inhibited growth of B. dendrobatidis in vitro. The three most active peptides (caerin 1.9, maculatin 1.1, and caerin 1.1) were found in the secretions of non-declining species (Litoria chloris, L. caerulea, and L. genimaculata). Although the possession of a potent isolated antimicrobial peptide does not guarantee protection from infection, non-declining species (L. lesueuri and L. genimaculata) inhabiting the rainforest of Queensland possess mixtures of peptides that may be more protective than those of the species occurring in the same habitat that have recently experienced population declines associated with chytridiomycosis (L. nannotis, L. rheocola, and Nyctimystes dayi). This study demonstrates that in vitro effectiveness of skin peptides correlates with the degree of decline in the face of an emerging pathogen. Further research is needed to assess whether this non-specific immune defense may be useful in predicting disease susceptibility in other species.