Bacterial Communities in Multiple Tissues Across the Body Surface of Three Coastal Shark Species

Published on
22 November 2021

Bacterial Communities in Multiple Tissues Across the Body Surface of Three Coastal Shark Species

Black C, Merly L, Hammerschlag N.


Bacteria are known to have explicit roles within the microbiomes of host tissues, therefore examining these communities may prove useful in assessing host health and responses to environmental change. The present study contributes to the emerging, yet understudied, field of microbiome research in elasmobranchs. We provide a screening of the culturable bacteria communities found on multiple tissue sites on the body surface of blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus), bull (Carcharhinus leucas), and tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) sharks near Miami, Florida. Tissue sites include mouth, gills, skin, and any visible wounds. The study adds to our understanding of the diversity of bacteria present on sharks in comparison to their natural environment. We also compare bacterial groups found within wounds in shark skin to healthy tissue sites on the same individual. Results indicate that wounds on an individual may allow for opportunistic bacteria to invade or overgrow where they would not normally be found, which may have potential health consequences for sharks that become wounded due to fishing practices. Identified bacteria belonged to the Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria phyla, known to be prominent bacterial groups associated with marine organisms. Results indicate shark species-specific differences in bacterial communities, including the presence of bacteria belonging to Planococcaceae exclusively on the skin of tiger sharks. To our knowledge, this is the first report of this family in any elasmobranch. While most tissue sites displayed commensal bacteria identified in similar studies, known pathogens belonging to Vibrionaceae and Staphylococcaceae were identified in the wounds of blacktip and bull sharks. Some bacteria may be normal residents, but the loss of protective dermal denticles due to a wound may allow colonization by pathogens. Continued research is needed to explore microbial communities associated with sharks and their influence on host health.

Zool Stud 60:69. doi:10.6620/ZS.2021.60-69.


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