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Acta Vet Scand. 2011 Mar 11;53:17. doi: 10.1186/1751-0147-53-17.

Adaptation of mammalian host-pathogen interactions in a changing arctic environment.

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  • 1Molecular Ecology of Infectious Agents Laboratory University of Alaska Fairbanks, 902 N, Koyukuk Dr,, Fairbanks AK 99775, USA.


Many arctic mammals are adapted to live year-round in extreme environments with low winter temperatures and great seasonal variations in key variables (e.g. sunlight, food, temperature, moisture). The interaction between hosts and pathogens in high northern latitudes is not very well understood with respect to intra-annual cycles (seasons). The annual cycles of interacting pathogen and host biology is regulated in part by highly synchronized temperature and photoperiod changes during seasonal transitions (e.g., freezeup and breakup). With a warming climate, only one of these key biological cues will undergo drastic changes, while the other will remain fixed. This uncoupling can theoretically have drastic consequences on host-pathogen interactions. These poorly understood cues together with a changing climate by itself will challenge host populations that are adapted to pathogens under the historic and current climate regime. We will review adaptations of both host and pathogens to the extreme conditions at high latitudes and explore some potential consequences of rapid changes in the Arctic.

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