The Novel and Endemic Pathogen Hypotheses: Competing Explanations for the Origin of Emerging Infectious Diseases of Wildlife
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Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is an emerging infectious disease implicated in declines of amphibian populations around the globe. An emerging infectious disease is one that has recently been discovered; has recently increased in incidence, geography, or host range; or is newly evolved. For any given outbreak of an emerging disease, it is therefore possible to state two hypotheses regarding its origin. The novel pathogen hypothesis states that the disease has recently spread into new geographic areas, whereas the endemic pathogen hypothesis suggests that it has been present in the environment but recently has increased in host range or pathogenicity. Distinguishing between these hypotheses is important, because the conservation measures needed to slow or stop the spread of a novel pathogen are likely to differ from those needed to prevent outbreaks of an endemic pathogen. Population genetics may help discriminate among the possible origins of an emerging disease. Current evidence suggests chytridiomycosis may be a novel pathogen being spread worldwide by carriers; until we know how much genetic variation to expect in an endemic strain, however, we cannot yet conclude that B. dendrobatidis is a novel pathogen.