Cascading impacts of prey loss
The global pandemic caused by the amphibian fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has decimated frog populations around the world. This decline has been called out as a potential catastrophe for amphibian species. What has been less explored are the impacts of amphibian declines on other members of their ecological communities. Using survey data collected over 13 years, Zipkin et al. looked at diversity and body condition of a tropical snake community heavily affected by chytridiomycosis. They found that affected snake communities were less diverse and most species were in decline, except for a few “winning” species.
Science, this issue p. 814
Biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates worldwide. Yet cascading effects of biodiversity loss on other taxa are largely unknown because baseline data are often unavailable. We document the collapse of a Neotropical snake community after the invasive fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis caused a chytridiomycosis epizootic leading to the catastrophic loss of amphibians, a food source for snakes. After mass mortality of amphibians, the snake community contained fewer species and was more homogeneous across the study site, with several species in poorer body condition, despite no other systematic changes in the environment. The demise of the snake community after amphibian loss demonstrates the repercussive and often unnoticed consequences of the biodiversity crisis and calls attention to the invisible declines of rare and data-deficient species.
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