Changes in cutaneous microbial abundance with sloughing: possible implications for infection and disease in amphibians

Dis Aquat Organ. 2012 Nov 19;101(3):235-42. doi: 10.3354/dao02523.


The emergence of disease as a significant global threat to amphibian diversity has generated considerable interest in amphibian defenses against cutaneous microbial infection and disease. To date, however, the influence of sloughing on the susceptibility of amphibians to infection and disease has been largely overlooked. To investigate the potential for sloughing to regulate topical microbial loads, the abundance of cultivable cutaneous bacteria and fungi in the cane toad Rhinella marina were compared before and after sloughing. Toads were also exposed to fluctuating thermal regimes (10-20 and 20-30°C) and variable photoperiods to investigate possible effects of season and climate on sloughing periodicity. Sloughing substantially reduced the abundance of cultivable cutaneous bacteria and fungi by up to 100%. The intermoult interval of toads maintained at 10-20°C was twice that of animals at 20-30°C and did not appear to thermally acclimate. Photoperiod had no discernable influence on sloughing periodicity. Results of this study suggest that normal sloughing cycles could play a significant role in controlling the persistence and build-up of cutaneous microbes, including pathogens. The loss of non-pathogenic commensal and protective skin microbiota after sloughing may also influence host susceptibility to cutaneous pathogens. We suggest that the spatio-temporal dynamics of chytridiomycosis, the widespread and often fatal disease caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, are related to temperature not only because of its effect on the growth of the fungus, but also because of its effect on the frequency of host sloughing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / veterinary*
  • Bufo marinus / microbiology*
  • Molting*
  • Mycoses / microbiology
  • Mycoses / veterinary*
  • Periodicity
  • Photoperiod
  • Risk Factors
  • Seasons
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Temperature