DAO prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03387

Ranavirus infection dynamics and shedding in American bullfrogs: consequences for spread and detection in trade

J. e. s. s. L. Brunner*, A. n. j. u. D. Olson, J. e. r. e. G. Rice, S. a. r. a. E. Meiners, S. a. g. e. M. J. Le, J. e. n. n. A. Cundiff, C. a. r. e. S. Goldberg, A. l. l. a. P. Pessier

*Email: jesse.brunner@wsu.edu

ABSTRACT: American bullfrogs Lithobates catesbeianus are thought to be important in the global spread of ranaviruses—often lethal viruses of cold-blooded vertebrates—because they are commonly farmed, dominate international trade, and may be “carriers” of ranavirus infections. However, whether American bullfrogs are easily infected and maintain long-lasting ranavirus infections or are refractory to or rapidly clear infections remains unknown. We tracked the dynamics of ranavirus in American bullfrogs through time and with temperature, in multiple types of samples, and also screened shipments from commercial suppliers to determine whether we could detect subclinical infections. Collectively, we found that tadpoles and juveniles were commonly infected at moderate doses, and while some died, others controlled and appeared to clear their infections. Some individuals, however, harbored subclinical infections for up to 49 d, suggesting American bullfrogs may be important carriers. Indeed, tadpoles and metamorphosed frogs from 2 of 5 commercial suppliers harbored subclinicial infections. Juveniles at warmer temperatures had less intense but still persistent infections. Because diagnostic performance was strongly related to infection intensity, non-lethal samples (i.e. tail or toe clips, swabs, and environmental DNA) had only a moderate chance of detecting subclinical infections. Even internal tissues may fail to detect subclinical infections. However, viral shedding was correlated with the intensity of infection, so while subclinically infected tadpoles shed virus for 35–49 d, the low levels might lead to little transmission. We suggest that a quantitative focus on virus dynamics within hosts can provide a more nuanced view of ranavirus infections and the risk presented by American bullfrogs in trade.