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ISME J. 2014 Apr;8(4):830-40. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.200. Epub 2013 Dec 12.

Microbial community dynamics and effect of environmental microbial reservoirs on red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

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Department of Biology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, USA.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA.
1] BioFrontiers Institute, Universitys of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA [2].
1] BioFrontiers Institute, Universitys of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA [2] Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA.


Beneficial cutaneous bacteria on amphibians can protect against the lethal disease chytridiomycosis, which has devastated many amphibian species and is caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. We describe the diversity of bacteria on red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) in the wild and the stability of these communities through time in captivity using culture-independent Illumina 16S rRNA gene sequencing. After field sampling, salamanders were housed with soil from the field or sterile media. The captive conditions led to different trajectories of bacterial communities. Eight OTUs present on >90% of salamanders in the field, through time, and in both treatments were defined as the core community, suggesting that some bacteria are closely associated with the host and are independent of an environmental reservoir. One of these taxa, a Pseudomonas sp., was previously cultured from amphibians and found to be antifungal. As all host-associated bacteria were found in the soil reservoir, environmental microbes strongly influence host-microbial diversity and likely regulate the core community. Using PICRUSt, an exploratory bioinformatics tool to predict gene functions, we found that core skin bacteria provided similar gene functions to the entire community. We suggest that future experiments focus on testing whether core bacteria on salamander skin contribute to the observed resistance to chytridiomycosis in this species even under hygenic captive conditions. For disease-susceptible hosts, providing an environmental reservoir with defensive bacteria in captive-rearing programs may improve outcomes by increasing bacterial diversity on threatened amphibians or increasing the likelihood that defensive bacteria are available for colonization.

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