"The arrival of a devastating pathogen like Bd could mean that the costs of communal nesting outweigh the benefits," said Zink, whose previous research has examined egg cannibalism and fighting among earwigs and mathematical models of social evolution.
Using lab and field studies, Zink and Vredenburg will document the communal nesting habits of a common salamander that has been exposed to Bd since the 1970s, but little is known about the fate of populations in the wild infected with this fungus. Known as slender salamanders, these worm-like creatures build nests under logs and rocks. Sometimes as many as 15 females lay their eggs in the same nest.
"These salamanders are the most common amphibian in California," Zink said. "They're easy to find -- you can even spot them on campus. This is the perfect group of species for the questions we're interested in."
Zink and Vredenburg plan to focus on seven of the 28 species found in California, because thousands of individuals of these species are preserved in museums.
Field observations of salamander behavior will be combined with historical data about the Bd fungus in these same populations. The researchers and their graduate students will use thousands of museum specimens, collected over the last 100 years. By testing DNA from the preservative-soaked skins of these creatures, they will map the timing and spread of Bd among California's slender salamanders.
"We'll look at how the nesting habits of distinct salamander populations correspond to their level of infection and how long the pathogen has been in their community," said Vredenburg, an associate professor of biology at SF State.
The study will be one of the first to examine the relationship between amphibian social behavior and the Bd fungus. Zink and Vredenburg believe this study i
|Contact: Elaine Bible|
San Francisco State University