Understanding how the global climate impacts the physiology of wildlife animals is of importance. Amphibians are particularly sensitive to climate change, and it is hypothesized that rising temperatures impair their neurodevelopment. Temperature influences the composition of the gut microbiota, which is critical to host neurodevelopment through the microbiota–gut–brain (MGB) axis. Most research investigating the link between the gut microbiota and neurodevelopment occurs in germ-free mammalian model systems, leaving the nature of the MGB axis in non-mammalian wildlife unclear. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the temperature and the microbial environment in which tadpoles were raised shapes neurodevelopment, possibly through the MGB axis. Newly hatched green frog tadpoles (Lithobates clamitans) were raised in natural pond water or autoclaved pond water, serving as an experimental manipulation of the microbiota by reducing colonizing microbes, at three different water temperatures: 14, 22 and 28°C. Neurodevelopment was analyzed through measures of relative brain mass and morphology of brain structures of interest. We found that tadpole development in warmer temperatures increased relative brain mass and optic tectum width and length. Further, tadpole development in autoclaved pond water increased relative optic tectum width and length. Additionally, the interaction of treatments altered relative diencephalon length. Lastly, we found that variation in brain morphology was associated with gut microbial diversity and the relative abundance of individual bacterial taxa. Our results indicate that both environmental temperature and microbial communities influence relative brain mass and shape. Furthermore, we provide some of the first evidence for the MGB axis in amphibians.

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