Evidence for emergence of an amphibian iridoviral disease because of human-enhanced spread


A. Storfer, Fax: (509) 335 3184; E-mail: astorfer@wsu.edu


Our understanding of origins and spread of emerging infectious diseases has increased dramatically because of recent applications of phylogenetic theory. Iridoviruses are emerging pathogens that cause global amphibian epizootics, including tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) die-offs throughout western North America. To explain phylogeographical relationships and potential causes for emergence of western North American salamander iridovirus strains, we sequenced major capsid protein and DNA methyltransferase genes, as well as two noncoding regions from 18 geographically widespread isolates. Phylogenetic analyses of sequence data from the capsid protein gene showed shallow genetic divergence (< 1%) among salamander iridovirus strains and monophyly relative to available fish, reptile, and other amphibian iridovirus strains from the genus Ranavirus, suggesting a single introduction and radiation. Analysis of capsid protein sequences also provided support for a closer relationship of tiger salamander virus strains to those isolated from sport fish (e.g. rainbow trout) than other amphibian isolates. Despite monophyly based on capsid protein sequences, there was low genetic divergence among all strains (< 1.1%) based on a supergene analysis of the capsid protein and the two noncoding regions. These analyses also showed polyphyly of strains from Arizona and Colorado, suggesting recent spread. Nested clade analyses indicated both range expansion and long-distance colonization in clades containing virus strains isolated from bait salamanders and the Indiana University axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) colony. Human enhancement of viral movement is a mechanism consistent with these results. These findings suggest North American salamander ranaviruses cause emerging disease, as evidenced by apparent recent spread over a broad geographical area.