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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 622:203-217 (2019)  -  DOI:

Detecting respiratory bacterial communities of wild dolphins: implications for animal health

Tiffanie M. Nelson1,*, Megan M. Wallen2, Mike Bunce3, Charlotte L. Oskam4, Nicole Lima5, Leigh Clayton6, Janet Mann2

1Queensland Facility for Advanced Bioinformatics, School of Medicine, Griffith University, Southport, QLD 4215, Australia
2Department of Biology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, 20057, USA
3Ancient DNA Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch University, Perth, WA 6100, Australia
4Vector and Waterborne Pathogens Research Group, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
5School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2034, Australia
6National Aquarium, 501 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Infectious diseases contribute to the vulnerable status of marine mammals, including respiratory illnesses. This study aimed to capture exhaled breath condensate (blow) for microbial identification from wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins Tursiops aduncus. Individual dolphins were sampled by holding a funnel connected to a 50 ml centrifuge tube over the blowhole of the animal near shore in Shark Bay (SB), Western Australia. Four individuals were sampled on 2 occasions along with seawater samples. Comparative blow and pool water samples were collected from 4 individual common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus housed in the National Aquarium (NA), Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Bacteria were identified using the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene from extracted DNA. We identified bacteria independent of seawater in SB dolphins, which included the classes Alphaproteobacteria (26.1%) and Gammaproteobacteria (25.8%); the phyla Bacteroidetes (15.6%) and Fusobacteria (7.2%); and the genera Pseudomonas (11.5%), Pedomicrobium (4.5%), Streptobacillus (3.7%), Phenylobacterium (2.2%) and Sphingomonas (2.1%). There were broad similarities in phyla between SB and NA dolphins yet there were differences between lower taxonomic groups. A number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were shared between dolphin individuals, which may be a result of their genetic lineage (siblings or parentage), shared living and social interactions. A number of genera were observed in SB dolphins which have species known to be infectious in marine mammals such as Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma and Streptococcus. This study successfully characterised bacteria from DNA captured in blow from wild dolphins. The ability to capture these communities from individuals in the wild provides a novel health indicator.

KEY WORDS: Microbiome · Cetacean · Infectious disease · Captivity · Health

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Cite this article as: Nelson TM, Wallen MM, Bunce M, Oskam CL, Lima N, Clayton L, Mann J (2019) Detecting respiratory bacterial communities of wild dolphins: implications for animal health. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 622:203-217.

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