Many amphibians have declined globally due to introduction of the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Hundreds of species, many in well-protected habitats, remain as small populations at risk of extinction. Currently the only proven conservation strategy is to maintain species in captivity to be reintroduced at a later date. However, methods to abate the disease in the wild are urgently needed so that reintroduced and wild animals can survive in the presence of Bd. Vaccination has been widely suggested as a potential strategy to improve survival. We used captive-bred offspring of critically endangered booroolong frogs (Litoria booroolongensis) to test if vaccination in the form of prior infection improves survival following re exposure. We infected frogs with a local Bd isolate, cleared infection after 30 days (d) using itraconazole just prior to the onset of clinical signs, and then re-exposed animals to Bd at 110 d. We found prior exposure had no effect on survival or infection intensities, clearly showing that real infections do not stimulate a protective adaptive immune response in this species. This result supports recent studies suggesting Bd may evade or suppress host immune functions. Our results suggest vaccination is unlikely to be useful in mitigating chytridiomycosis. However, survival of some individuals from all experimental groups indicates existence of protective innate immunity. Understanding and promoting this innate resistance holds potential for enabling species recovery.
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