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Integr Comp Biol. 2017 Oct 1;57(4):732-742. doi: 10.1093/icb/icx028.

Early-Life Diet Affects Host Microbiota and Later-Life Defenses Against Parasites in Frogs.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620, USA.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


Food resources can affect the health of organisms by altering their symbiotic microbiota and affecting energy reserves for host defenses against parasites. Different diets can vary in their macronutrient content and therefore they might favor certain bacterial communities of the host and affect the development and maintenance of the immune system, such as the inflammatory or antibody responses. Thus, testing the effect of diet, especially for animals with wide diet breadths, on host-associated microbiota and defenses against parasites might be important in determining infection and disease risk. Here, we test whether the early-life diet of Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) affects early- and later-life microbiota as well as later-life defenses against skin-penetrating, gut worms (Aplectana hamatospicula). We fed tadpoles two ecologically common diets: a diet of conspecifics or a diet of algae (Arthrospira sp.). We then: (1) characterized the gut microbiota of tadpoles and adults; and (2) challenged adult frogs with parasitic worms and measured host resistance (including the antibody-mediated immune response) and tolerance of infections. Tadpole diet affected bacterial communities in the guts of tadpoles but did not have enduring effects on the bacterial communities of adults. In contrast, tadpole diet had enduring effects on host resistance and tolerance of infections in adult frogs. Frogs that were fed a conspecific-based diet as tadpoles were more resistant to worm penetration compared with frogs that were fed an alga-based diet as tadpoles, but less resistant to worm establishment, which may be related to their suppressed antibody response during worm establishment. Furthermore, frogs that were fed a conspecific-based diet as tadpoles were more tolerant to the effect of parasite abundance on host mass during worm establishment. Overall, our study demonstrates that the diet of Cuban tree frog tadpoles affects the gut microbiota and defenses against parasitic gut worms of frogs, but these effects depend on the stage of the host and infection, respectively.

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