Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The population genetics of the causative agent of snake fungal disease indicate recent introductions to the USA

June 1, 2022

Snake fungal disease (SFD; ophidiomycosis), caused by the pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola (Oo), has been documented in wild snakes in North America and Eurasia, and is considered an emerging disease in the eastern United States of America. However, a lack of historical disease data has made it challenging to determine whether Oo is a recent arrival to the USA or whether SFD emergence is due to other factors. Here, we examined the genomes of 82 Oo strains to determine the pathogen’s history in the eastern USA. Oo strains from the USA formed a clade (Clade II) distinct from European strains (Clade I), and molecular dating indicated that these clades diverged too recently (approximately 2,000 years ago) for transcontinental dispersal of Oo to have occurred via natural snake movements across Beringia. A lack of nonrecombinant intermediates between clonal lineages in Clade II indicates that Oo has actually been introduced multiple times to North America from an unsampled source population, and molecular dating indicates that several of these introductions occurred within the last few hundred years. Molecular dating also indicated that the most common Clade II clonal lineages have expanded recently in the USA, with time of most recent common ancestor mean estimates ranging from 1985 to 2007 CE. The presence of Clade II in captive snakes worldwide demonstrates a potential mechanism of introduction and highlights that additional incursions are likely unless action is taken to reduce the risk of pathogen translocation and spillover into wild snake populations.

Publication Year 2022
Title The population genetics of the causative agent of snake fungal disease indicate recent introductions to the USA
DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001676
Authors Jason T. Ladner, Jonathan M. Palmer, Cassandra L. Ettinger, Jason E. Stajich, Terence M. Farrell, Brad M. Glorioso, Becki Lawson, Steven J. Price, Anne G. Stengle, Daniel A. Grear, Jeffrey M. Lorch
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS Biology
Index ID 70237855
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center; Wetland and Aquatic Research Center