Date of Award

5-2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick

Committee Members

Graham J. Hickling, Gary F. McCracken

Abstract

World-wide amphibian declines sparked concern and encouraged investigation into potential causes beginning in the 1980’s. Infectious disease has been identified as one of the major potential contributors to amphibian declines. For example, Ranavirus has caused amphibian die-offs throughout the United States. Investigators isolated Ranavirus from dead or moribund amphibians during large-scale die-offs of amphibians in the Cades Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1999-2001. In 2009, after nearly a decade without follow-up monitoring, I undertook an investigation to determine if the virus persisted in the area, and if so, to assess spatial, temporal, and taxonomic patterns in prevalence. Three amphibian breeding ponds, including Gourley Pond, the site of these earlier mortality events, were monitored for Ranavirus during the 2009 amphibian breeding season. A peak in prevalence occurred at Gourley Pond corresponding to a massive amphibian die-off. Prevalence varied among three different taxonomic groups during this mortality event with the highest prevalence, 84%, detected in larval Ambystomatids, 44.4% prevalence in adult Newts, and no virus detected in adult Plethodontids. I did not detect virus at either of the other two breeding ponds despite equivalent sampling effort, similar community composition, and close proximity to Gourley Pond. These results suggest that the severity and spatial extent of Ranavirus in Cades Cove remains unchanged since its initial detection a decade ago. Also, despite the observed massive die-offs there is no evidence of local amphibian extinction at Gourley Pond.

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