Co-habiting amphibian species harbor unique skin bacterial communities in wild populations

ISME J. 2012 Mar;6(3):588-96. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.129. Epub 2011 Sep 29.


Although all plant and animal species harbor microbial symbionts, we know surprisingly little about the specificity of microbial communities to their hosts. Few studies have compared the microbiomes of different species of animals, and fewer still have examined animals in the wild. We sampled four pond habitats in Colorado, USA, where multiple amphibian species were present. In total, 32 amphibian individuals were sampled from three different species including northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens), western chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) and tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum). We compared the diversity and composition of the bacterial communities on the skin of the collected individuals via barcoded pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Dominant bacterial phyla included Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteriodetes, Cyanobacteria, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria. In total, we found members of 18 bacterial phyla, comparable to the taxonomic diversity typically found on human skin. Levels of bacterial diversity varied strongly across species: L. pipiens had the highest diversity; A. tigrinum the lowest. Host species was a highly significant predictor of bacterial community similarity, and co-habitation within the same pond was not significant, highlighting that the skin-associated bacterial communities do not simply reflect those bacterial communities found in their surrounding environments. Innate species differences thus appear to regulate the structure of skin bacterial communities on amphibians. In light of recent discoveries that some bacteria on amphibian skin have antifungal activity, our finding suggests that host-specific bacteria may have a role in the species-specific resistance to fungal pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ambystoma / microbiology*
  • Animals
  • Anura / microbiology*
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Biodiversity
  • Colorado
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Metagenome*
  • Ponds / microbiology
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Ranidae / microbiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S