Skin sloughing rate increases with chytrid fungus infection load in a susceptible amphibian

Michel E.B. Ohmer, Rebecca L Cramp, Craig R White, Craig E Franklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Amphibian chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is responsible for the greatest disease-driven loss of vertebrate biodiversity in recorded history. Understanding drivers of host susceptibility to this cutaneous disease is hindered by gaps in our knowledge of the host-pathogen relationship. One such overlooked aspect of susceptibility is variation in skin maintenance processes, particularly skin turnover via routine sloughing. It has been suggested that sloughing plays a role in immune defence, by removing skin-associated microbes. Thus, skin sloughing may play an important role in the pathogenesis of chytridiomycosis. To determine the relationship between skin sloughing and disease progression, we exposed adult Australian green tree frogs (Litoria caerulea) to a local Bd strain and monitored sloughing rates and individual infection loads on a naturalistic cycling temperature regime (15-23 °C). We determined sloughing rates in real-time by using an array of infrared video cameras to film frog behaviour and monitored infection load before and after sloughing by swabbing and analysis with quantitative PCR. We found that sloughing rate increased with Bd infection load in infected frogs, but sloughing itself did not affect Bd load on the ventral skin surface. Furthermore, Bd infection did not affect the duration of characteristic sloughing behaviour, and sloughing retained rhythmicity even at high infection loads. Although an increased sloughing rate might be considered advantageous for Bd-infected animals, it does not appear to curb the progression of disease and may actually contribute to the loss of physiological homoeostasis seen in terminally ill frogs by further inhibiting water and electrolyte transport across the skin. By measuring sloughing rates directly for the first time, our results shed light on how Bd interacts with the physiological processes of the skin and indicate that variation in skin sloughing frequency may play a role in the observed inter- and intraspecific variation in susceptibility to disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)674-682
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Volume29
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis
  • Amphibian disease
  • Chytridiomycosis
  • Fungal pathogen
  • Infection load
  • Physiological homoeostasis
  • Skin sloughing
  • Susceptibility

Cite this