Effects of host species and environment on the skin microbiome of Plethodontid salamanders

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Abstract

The amphibian skin microbiome is recognized for its role in defence against pathogens, including the deadly fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Yet, we have little understanding of evolutionary and ecological processes that structure these communities, especially for salamanders and closely related species. We investigated patterns in the distribution of bacterial communities on Plethodon salamander skin across host species and environments. Quantifying salamander skin microbiome structure contributes to our understanding of how host-associated bacteria are distributed across the landscape, among host species, and their putative relationship with disease. We characterized skin microbiome structure (alpha-diversity, beta-diversity and bacterial operational taxonomic unit [OTU] abundances) using 16S rRNA gene sequencing for co-occurring Plethodon salamander species (35 Plethodon cinereus, 17 Plethodon glutinosus, 10 Plethodon cylindraceus) at three localities to differentiate the effects of host species from environmental factors on the microbiome. We sampled the microbiome of P. cinereus along an elevational gradient (n = 50, 700–1,000 m a.s.l.) at one locality to determine whether elevation predicts microbiome structure. Finally, we quantified prevalence and abundance of putatively anti-Bd bacteria to determine if Bd-inhibitory bacteria are dominant microbiome members. Co-occurring salamanders had similar microbiome structure, but among sites salamanders had dissimilar microbiome structure for beta-diversity and abundance of 28 bacterial OTUs. We found that alpha-diversity increased with elevation, beta-diversity and the abundance of 17 bacterial OTUs changed with elevation (16 OTUs decreasing, 1 OTU increasing). We detected 11 putatively anti-Bd bacterial OTUs that were present on 90% of salamanders and made up an average relative abundance of 83% (SD ± 8.5) per salamander. All salamanders tested negative for Bd. We conclude that environment is more influential in shaping skin microbiome structure than host differences in these congeneric species, and suggest that environmental characteristics that covary with elevation influence microbiome structure. High prevalence and abundance of anti-Bd bacteria may contribute to low Bd levels in these populations of Plethodon salamanders.

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Muletz Wolz, C. R., Yarwood, S. A., Campbell Grant, E. H., Fleischer, R. C., & Lips, K. R. (2018). Effects of host species and environment on the skin microbiome of Plethodontid salamanders. Journal of Animal Ecology, 87(2), 341–353. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12726

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