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  1. Abstract

    Biodiversity in ecosystems plays an important role in supporting human welfare, including regulating the transmission of infectious diseases. Many of these services are not fully-appreciated due to complex environmental dynamics and lack of baseline data. Multicontinental amphibian decline due to the fungal pathogenBatrachochytrium dendrobatidis(Bd) provides a stark example. Even though amphibians are known to affect natural food webs—including mosquitoes that transmit human diseases—the human health impacts connected to their massive decline have received little attention. Here we leverage a unique ensemble of ecological surveys, satellite data, and newly digitized public health records to show an empirical link between a wave of Bd-driven collapse of amphibians in Costa Rica and Panama and increased human malaria incidence. Subsequent to the estimated date of Bd-driven amphibian decline in each ‘county’ (canton or distrito), we find that malaria cases are significantly elevated for several years. For the six year peak of the estimated effect, the annual expected county-level increase in malaria ranges from 0.76 to 1.1 additional cases per 1000 population. This is a substantial increase given that cases country-wide per 1000 population peaked during the timeframe of our study at approximately 1.5 for Costa Rica and 1.1 for Panama. This previously unidentifiedmore »impact of biodiversity loss illustrates the often hidden human welfare costs of conservation failures. These findings also show the importance of mitigating international trade-driven spread of similar emergent pathogens likeBatrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

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  2. Biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates worldwide. Yet cascading effects of biodiversity loss on other taxa are largely unknown because baseline data are often unavailable. We document the collapse of a Neotropical snake community after the invasive fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis caused a chytridiomycosis epizootic leading to the catastrophic loss of amphibians, a food source for snakes. After mass mortality of amphibians, the snake community contained fewer species and was more homogeneous across the study site, with several species in poorer body condition, despite no other systematic changes in the environment. The demise of the snake community after amphibian loss demonstrates the repercussive and often unnoticed consequences of the biodiversity crisis and calls attention to the invisible declines of rare and data-deficient species.