The Caribbean bonefish species Albula vulpes is an economically important nearshore marine sport fish that has notably declined in the Florida Keys over the past 20–30 years. The reasons for this decline are unclear, although habitat loss, water quality reductions, climate change, and other environmental drivers likely play a role. Infectious disease can also cause precipitous species-specific declines in wildlife populations, but virtually nothing is known about infection in bonefish. We analyzed communities of bacteria on the gills of bonefish from the Florida Keys, where declines are pronounced, and the islands of Eleuthera and Inagua in The Bahamas, where no such declines have been recorded. Bacterial community composition varied significantly among island location (Keys, Eleuthera, Inagua) and among sites within island locations (e.g., tidal creeks, coves, inlets). Seventeen times more bacterial taxa were over-represented in the Florida Keys than in The Bahamas, and several bacterial genera over-represented in the Florida Keys have been linked to environmental contamination and disease (e.g., Corynebacterium; Acholeplasma; Staphylococcus; and Streptococcus). These results show that gill bacterial community signatures may prove useful for investigating bonefish spatial ecology and that communities of microbes on bonefish gills contain differentially abundant and potentially pathogenic bacteria that covary with the overall “health” of the population.
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We gratefully acknowledge the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust for assisting with sampling and logistics in the Florida Keys, as well as the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, the faculty and staff of the Cape Eleuthera Institute, and D. Rankin and Z. Wasserman for assisting with sampling and logistics in The Bahamas.
This project was funded by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the University of Wisconsin-Madison John D. MacArthur Fellowship Program, the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, and the individual scientists and their home institutions.
Conflict of interest
Author Christopher Dunn declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Lewis Campbell declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Elizabeth Wallace declares that she has no conflict of interest. Author Andy Danylchuk declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Steven Cooke declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Aaron Shultz declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Brooke Black declares that she has no conflict of interest. Author Jacob Brownscombe declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Lucas Griffin declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author David Philipp declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Aaron Adams declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Tony Goldberg declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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Dunn, C.D., Campbell, L.J., Wallace, E.M. et al. Bacterial communities on the gills of bonefish (Albula vulpes) in the Florida Keys and The Bahamas show spatial structure and differential abundance of disease-associated bacteria. Mar Biol 167, 85 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-020-03698-7