Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Experimental evidence for a cost of resistance to the fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, for the palmate newt, Lissotriton helveticus

Hamed Cheatsazan1*, Ana P Lugon Gavinho de Almedia2, Andrew F Russell13 and Camille Bonneaud13

Author Affiliations

1 Station d’Ecologie Expérimentale, USR 2936, 2 Route du CNRS, 09200 Moulis, France

2 Organism and Population Biology, University of Burgundy, 21000 Dijon, France

3 Centre for Ecology & Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, Penryn TR10 9EZ, Cornwall, UK

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:27  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-27

Published: 19 July 2013



Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the causative agent of chytridiomycosis, is decimating amphibians worldwide. Unsurprisingly, the majority of studies have therefore concentrated on documenting morbidity and mortality of susceptible species and projecting population consequences as a consequence of this emerging infectious disease. Currently, there is a paucity of studies investigating the sub-lethal costs of Bd in apparently asymptomatic species, particularly in controlled experimental conditions. Here we report the consequences of a single dose of B. dendrobatidis zoospores on captive adult palmate newts (Lissotriton helveticus) for morphological and behavioural traits that associate with reproductive success.


A single exposure to ~2000 zoospores induced a subclinical Bd infection. One week after inoculation 84% of newts tested positive for Bd, and of those, 98% had apparently lost the infection by the day 30. However, exposed newts suffered significant mass loss compared with control newts, and those experimental newts removing higher levels of Bd lost most mass. We found no evidence to suggest that three secondary sexual characteristics (areas of dorsal crest and rear foot webbing, and length of tail filament) were reduced between experimental versus control newts; in fact, rear foot webbing was 26% more expansive at the end of the experiment in exposed newts. Finally, compared with unexposed controls, exposure to Bd was associated with a 50% earlier initiation of the non-reproductive terrestrial phase.


Our results suggest that Bd has measureable, but sub-lethal effects, on adult palmate newts, at least under the laboratory conditions presented. We conclude that the effects reported are most likely to be mediated through the initiation of costly immune responses and/or tissue repair mechanisms. Although we found no evidence of hastened secondary sexual trait regression, through reducing individual body condition and potentially, breeding season duration, we predict that Bd exposure might have negative impacts on populations of palmate newts through reducing individual reproductive success and adult recruitment.

Body condition; Cost of immunity; Chytridiomycosis; Emerging infectious disease; Resistance; Secondary sexual traits