July 20 (UPI) -- A frog's health can be predicted by the community of microbes found in its gut during the earliest stages of life, when the frog is just a tadpole.
The revelation may have implications for the study of the relationship between gut microbes and the immune system in other animals, including mammals and even humans.
To measure the physiological importance of the gut microbiome, scientists manipulated communities of microbes in the gastrointestinal tracts of both tadpoles and adult frogs. Scientists found frogs who had their gut microbiome disrupted as tadpoles were less able to fend of parasitic gut worms.
Adult Cuban tree frogs, Osteopilus septentrionalis, who had their gut microbes altered as tadpoles hosted three times as many parasitic worms.
Surprisingly, scientists found no links between the makeup of gut microbes in adults and parasitic infestation. The findings -- detailed this week in the journal Nature Communications -- suggest the negative consequences of microbial disruption were sowed during the maturation process.
"Our study found that a disruption of bacteria in tadpoles has enduring negative effects on how adult frogs deal with their parasite," Sarah Knutie, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of South Florida, said in a news release. "These results suggest that preventing early-life disruptions of bacteria by factors such as nutrition, antibiotics and pollution, might confer protection against diseases later in life."
The rising concentrations of contaminants in freshwater ecosystems is a grave threat to amphibians, whose populations have been shrinking across the globe. The loss of amphibian species is one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity.
Knutie and her colleagues suggest pesticides, antibiotics and other contaminants may be diminishing the ability of frogs and other amphibians to fight off infection and disease.