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New CU-Boulder study shows diversity decreases chances of parasitic disease
Date:10/21/2008

A new University of Colorado at Boulder study showing that American toads who pal around with gray tree frogs reduce their chances of parasitic infections known to cause limb malformations has strong implications for the benefits of biodiversity on emerging wildlife diseases.

The experiments showed that when the toad tadpoles were raised in tanks with the parasitic trematodes -- tiny worms whose larvae burrow into tadpole limb regions and disrupt normal leg development -- 40 percent of the emerging frogs became deformed, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Pieter Johnson. But when the toad tadpoles were joined in the tanks with gray tree frog tadpoles, parasitic infections in the toads dropped by almost half, said Johnson, lead author of the study.

The study showed tree frog tadpoles acted as "sponges" for the trematode parasites, which were subsequently killed by the immune systems of frog tadpoles, said Johnson. As a result, fewer parasites were available to infect and cause malformations in the toads. Both the gray tree frog and American toad are broadly distributed in the Midwest and eastern United States and often occur in the same wetlands, he said.

"This is one of the first experimental studies to definitively show that an increase in diversity of host species actually can reduce parasite transmission and disease," said Johnson of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department. Published in the October issue of Ecology Letters, the study has implications for the declining global diversity of wildlife species that are susceptible to parasitic infections, said Johnson.

Other research has shown that a decrease in diversity in mammal host species for ticks carrying Lyme disease increases the risk of Lyme disease in humans, Johnson said. Similar relationships between wildlife diversity and disease prevalence have been suggested by other researchers to influence other vector-borne diseases, including West
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Contact: Pieter Johnson
pieter.johnson@colorado.edu
303-492-5623
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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