Globally panmictic population structure in the opportunistic fungal pathogen Aspergillus sydowii


Krystal Rypien, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, Marine Biology Research Division, 9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0202, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA. Fax: 858-534-7313; E-mail:


Recent outbreaks of new diseases in many ecosystems are caused by novel pathogens, impaired host immunity, or changing environmental conditions. Identifying the source of emergent pathogens is critical for mitigating the impacts of diseases, and understanding the cause of their recent appearances. One ecosystem suffering outbreaks of disease in the past decades is coral reefs, where pathogens such as the fungus Aspergillus sydowii have caused catastrophic population declines in their hosts. Aspergillosis is one of the best-characterized coral diseases, yet the origin of this typically terrestrial fungus in marine systems remains unknown. We examined the genetic structure of a global sample of A. sydowii, including isolates from diseased corals, diseased humans, and environmental sources. Twelve microsatellite markers reveal a pattern of global panmixia among the fungal isolates. A single origin of the pathogen into marine systems seems unlikely given the lack of isolation by distance and lack of evidence for a recent bottleneck. A neighbour-joining phylogeny shows that sea fan isolates are interspersed with environmental isolates, suggesting there have been multiple introductions from land into the ocean. Overall, our results underscore that A. sydowii is a true opportunist, with a diversity of nonrelated isolates able to cause disease in corals. This study highlights the challenge in distinguishing between the role of environment in allowing opportunistic pathogens to increase and actual introductions of new pathogenic microorganisms for coral diseases.