Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Matthew J. Gray

Committee Members

Jason T. Hoverman, Debra L. Miller, Arnold Saxton


For over three decades, amphibian populations have been declining across the globe. Emerging infectious diseases are responsible for some of these declines. Ranaviruses have caused die-offs in wild amphibian populations on 4 continents, in 5 Canadian provinces, and in over 25 U.S. states. In order to understand host-pathogen dynamics, it is critical to establish baseline information on species susceptibility and the effects of natural stressors. The goal of my thesis research was to quantify the effects of anuran development and exposure to invertebrate predators on species-specific susceptibility to ranavirus. My experiments were designed in factorial arrangements, and consisted of exposure to ranavirus during different developmental stages or with and without predator cues in a controlled environment. I found that exposure to invertebrate predator cues did not increase susceptibility to ranavirus for 4 anuran species tested. Susceptibility differed among embryo, hatchling, larval and metamorph stages, but trends differed among species and did not follow predictions based on Xenopus laevis immune function. Low susceptibility during the embryo stage was the only consistent development result among species, perhaps owing to protective qualities of the vitelline membrane or mucoidal capsules surrounding the embryo. Across 7 anuran species tested, mean mortality rates ranged from 5 – 100%, with Lithobates sylvaticus and Scaphiopus holbrookii most susceptible. I found that infection rates and viral load were correlated with mortality rates, thus these variables are good indicators of susceptibility to ranavirus. My results indicate that ranaviruses can cause catastrophic natural mortality in some anuran species, and likely play a significant role in local population dynamics. For highly susceptible species, ranaviruses could cause local extirpations that lead to species declines. More information is needed on the role of natural (e.g., co-infection, competition) and anthropogenic stressors in driving ranavirus epizootic events. I encourage natural resource agencies to initiate ranavirus surveillance programs, especially for rare species and fragmented populations. Future studies should take an immunogenetic approach to identifying mechanisms driving susceptibility. Identifying mechanisms associated with ranavirus emergence is fundamental to developing science-based conservation strategies.

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