Research ArticleECOLOGY

Host susceptibility to snake fungal disease is highly dispersed across phylogenetic and functional trait space

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Science Advances  20 Dec 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 12, e1701387
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701387

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Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) reduce host population sizes, cause extinction, disassemble communities, and have indirect negative effects on human well-being. Fungal EIDs have reduced population abundances in amphibians and bats across many species over large areas. The recent emergence of snake fungal disease (SFD) may have caused declines in some snake populations in the Eastern United States (EUS), which is home to a phylogenetically and ecologically diverse assembly of 98 taxa. SFD has been documented in only 23 naturally occuring species, although this is likely an underestimate of the number of susceptible taxa. Using several novel methods, including artificial neural networks, we combine phylogenetic and trait-based community estimates from all taxa in this region to show that SFD hosts are both phylogenetically and ecologically randomly dispersed. This might indicate that other species of snakes in the EUS could be currently infected or susceptible to SFD. Our models also indicate that information about key traits that enhance susceptiblity is lacking. Surveillance should consider that all snake species and habitats likely harbor this pathogen.

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