The Role of the Skin Microbiome in Amphibian Health, from Ecology and Immunology to Conservation Applications
Thursday, August 14, 2014: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
307, Sacramento Convention Center
Valerie J. McKenzie, University of Colorado
Reid N. Harris, James Madison University and Amphibian Survival Alliance; and
Lisa K. Belden, Virginia Tech
Vance T. Vredenburg, San Francisco State University
All species of plants and animals harbor bacteria and fungi that live symbiotically in and on them. How those communities of microbes are related to the health of their host organisms is largely undetermined and, in particular, there is a limited understanding of how symbiotic microbes may interact with the immune system and mediate the establishment of pathogenic organisms that can cause disease. Amphibian species vary in their ability to tolerate infection by a fungal skin pathogen (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, ‘Bd’) that is linked to amphibian declines at the global scale. A number of recent studies have demonstrated that certain bacteria that live on the skin of some amphibians can inhibit growth of Bd, and these discoveries have lead to a rapid expansion of scientists exploring the amphibian skin microbiome. We propose an organized oral session to bring these investigators together to share the recent trajectories of research in an effort to foster further collaborative relationships and accelerate efforts that may provide tools for amphibian conservation in the form of bioaugmentation or probiotics. In addition, we hope to interact with scientists working on similar topics in other systems and to attract new scientists to this emerging research area. Thus, we envision a session that encompasses ecological discoveries about the skin microbiome as well as areas of applied research. More specifically, topics will include: discoveries of symbiotic skin microbes that exhibit anti-Bd activity; studies that investigate the role of the amphibian immune system as well as microbially produced compounds that inhibit Bd; studies that compare the microbiome across species or different environments; experimental approaches to understand the response of skin microbial communities to exposure to a pathogen; experimental approaches to investigate the use of bioaugmentation in reducing amphibian mortality caused by disease; and a discussion about strategies to use common methodologies and sequence data sharing to facilitate comparison across studies. While the focus of our session is on the skin microbiome of amphibians, the concepts and tools being developed are relevant to many wildlife disease systems (e.g., white nose syndrome in bats) and human medicine (e.g., MRSA in humans). Our goal is to merge this area of research into broader realms of disease ecology and conservation applications.