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Sci Total Environ. 2015 Oct 1;529:114-20. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.05.039. Epub 2015 May 22.

Enhanced biological processes associated with alopecia in polar bears (Ursus maritimus).

Author information

1
U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Davis, CA 95826, USA. Electronic address: lbowen@usgs.gov.
2
U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Davis, CA 95826, USA.
3
Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
4
U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA.

Abstract

Populations of wildlife species worldwide experience incidents of mass morbidity and mortality. Primary or secondary drivers of these events may escape classical detection methods for identifying microbial insults, toxin exposure, or additional stressors. In 2012, 28% of polar bears sampled in a study in the southern Beaufort Sea region of Alaska had varying degrees of alopecia that was concomitant with reduced body condition. Concurrently, elevated numbers of sick or dead ringed seals were detected in the southern Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering seas in 2012, resulting in the declaration of an unusual mortality event (UME) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The primary and possible ancillary causative stressors of these events are unknown, and related physiological changes within individual animals have been undetectable using classical diagnostic methods. Here we present an emerging technology as a potentially guiding investigative approach aimed at elucidating the circumstances responsible for the susceptibility of certain polar bears to observed conditions. Using transcriptomic analysis we identified enhanced biological processes including immune response, viral defense, and response to stress in polar bears with alopecia. Our results support an alternative mechanism of investigation into the causative agents that, when used proactively, could serve as an early indicator for populations and species at risk. We suggest that current or classical methods for investigation into events of unusual morbidity and mortality can be costly, sometimes unfocused, and often inconclusive. Advances in technology allow for implementation of a holistic system of surveillance and investigation that could provide early warning of health concerns in wildlife species important to humans.

KEYWORDS:

Ecosystem health; Polar bear; Transcriptome; Unusual mortality event

PMID:
26005754
DOI:
10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.05.039
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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