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Immune function of salamander species Plethodon cinereus, Plethodon electromorphus, and hybrid individuals against Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis

Sarah Neuville

Name: Sarah Neuville
Majors: Biology, Education
Advisors: Hilary Edgington, Ryan Ozar, Rick Lehtinen

Since the 1960’s, research has shown consistently decreasing numbers of amphibians. Since then, two fungi have been found to be the main culprits, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. These deadly fungi cause chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease with an unprecedented mortality rate. While B. Salamandrivoranshas not yet been detected in the United States, it is similar enough to B. dendrobatidisthat we may be able to use B. dendrobatidis research to predict the effects of B. salamandrivoransonce it does reach North America. In some species populations, hybridization and introgression have been known to be beneficial in bolstering immune function. In some salamander communities, such as one in Wooster, Ohio, rapid hybridization has been observed. The species found to be hybridizing are Plethodon cinereusand Plethodon electromorphus. This study aims to investigate whether this hybridization is immunologically advantageous to hybrid individuals when confronted with B. dendrobatidis. After collecting tail clips and skin swabs from individuals, we compared Bd fungal growth when combined with skin secretions from both parental species and hybrids. Results showed an intermediate suppression level for the hybrid group, with significantly higher levels than P. cinereus. A significant difference was observed between P. cinereusand P. electromorphus. With these data, it may be possible to predict how hybrid communities will fare against B. salamandrivorans, and help defend North American salamander species.

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Posted in Comments Enabled, Independent Study, Symposium 2022.


3 responses to “Immune function of salamander species Plethodon cinereus, Plethodon electromorphus, and hybrid individuals against Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis”

  1. Thomas Neuville says:

    Thanks Sarah,
    This appears to be significant findings. As I read it I am struck by the notion that measuring small things can teach big lessons. I have two questions 1) What are those big lessons emerging from your research & 2) can you put your concluding remarks* in lay person language so I can better understand (see below)?

    *Results showed an intermediate suppression level for the hybrid group, with significantly higher levels than P. cinereus. A significant difference was observed between P. cinereusand P. electromorphus. With these data, it may be possible to predict how hybrid communities will fare against B. salamandrivorans, and help defend North American salamander species.

  2. Rick Lehtinen says:

    Nice work Sarah!

  3. Sarah says:

    Hi! The big picture here is that we can use naturally occurring phenomena to bolster conservation efforts!

    That section just means that individuals that I sampled who were a mix of the two species were able to fight fungal infection better than one parent species, but not better than the other.

    That all adds up to just telling us that hybridization can improve the traits of their offspring, and it might be useful when we look at how to defend these populations.

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