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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 134:75-87 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03356

Role of social behaviour in the epidemiology of lobomycosis-like disease (LLD) in estuarine common bottlenose dolphins from Ecuador

Fernando Félix1,2,*, Marie-Francoise Van Bressem3, Koen Van Waerebeek3

1Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 170143 Quito, Ecuador,
2Museo e Ballenas, 241550 Salinas, Ecuador
3Cetacean Conservation Medicine Group (CMED), Peruvian Centre for Cetacean Research (CEPEC), Museo de Delfines, Lima 20, Peru
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Lobomycosis-like disease (LLD) is a chronic granulomatous skin disorder that affects Delphinidae worldwide. LLD has been observed in common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus from the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador, since 1990. Although exogenous factors such as salinity and pollution may play a role in the pathogenesis of this disease in estuarine and coastal dolphin communities, we hypothesized that demography and social behaviour may also influence its epidemiology. To address this issue, the role of social behaviour in the distribution and prevalence of LLD was assessed through hierarchical cluster analysis and spatial distribution analysis in 7 dolphin communities inhabiting the inner estuary. Individuals with LLD lesions were observed in 5 of the 7 dolphin communities, with 13 of the 163 (8%) animals being positive, all adults. Among 8 dolphins of known sex, LLD affected mostly males (86%), who usually were found in pairs. Prevalence was low to moderate (5.1-13%) in dolphin communities where low-rank males had LLD. Conversely, it was high (44.4%, n = 9) in a small community where a high-rank male was infected. LLD affected both dolphins in 2 of the 4 male pairs for which large time series data were available, suggesting horizontal transmission due to contact. Thus, association with LLD-positive males seems to be an important risk factor for infections. Additionally, low-rank males had larger home ranges than high-rank males, indicating that low-status LLD-affected dolphins are likely responsible for the geographic dissemination of the disease in this population.


KEY WORDS: Tursiops truncatus · Lobomycosis-like disease · Sex · Social rank · Home range · Gulf of Guayaquil · South America


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Cite this article as: Félix F, Van Bressem MF, Van Waerebeek K (2019) Role of social behaviour in the epidemiology of lobomycosis-like disease (LLD) in estuarine common bottlenose dolphins from Ecuador. Dis Aquat Org 134:75-87. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03356

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