Author(s): Wedekind C, Gessner MO, Vazquez F, Maerki M, Steiner D
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Abstract There is mounting evidence that organic or inorganic enrichment of aquatic environments increases the risk of infectious diseases, with disease agents ranging from helminth parasites to fungal, bacterial, and viral pathogens. The causal link between microbial resource availability and disease risk is thought to be complex and, in the case of so-called "opportunistic pathogens," to involve additional stressors that weaken host resistance (e.g., temperature shifts or oxygen deficiencies). In contrast to this perception, our experiment shows that the link between resource levels and infection of fish embryos can be very direct: increased resource availability can transform benign microbial communities into virulent ones. We find that embryos can be harmed before further stresses (e.g., oxygen depletion) weaken them, and treatment with antibiotics and fungicides cancels the detrimental effects. The changed characteristics of symbiotic microbial communities could simply reflect density-dependent relationships or be due to a transition in life-history strategy. Our findings demonstrate that simple microhabitat changes can be sufficient to turn "opportunistic" into virulent pathogens.
This article was published in Ecology
and referenced in Journal of Bacteriology & Parasitology