[MARMAM] New publication: ecological and health-related dynamics of skin microbiomes on free-ranging beluga whales

Amy Van Cise avancise at gmail.com
Mon Oct 26 11:21:36 PDT 2020


I and my co-authors are excited to announce a new paper on the dynamics of
beluga whale skin microbiomes, published in Animal Microbiome:

Van Cise, A. M., Wade, P. R., Goertz, C. E. C., Burek-Huntington, K.,
Parsons, K. M., Clauss, T., Hobbs, R.C., Apprill, A. (2020). Skin
microbiome of beluga whales: spatial, temporal, and health-related
dynamics. Animal Microbiome, 2(1), 39.

The paper is open access, and can be downloaded here
<https://rdcu.be/b8WI3> (shareable
link: https://rdcu.be/b8WI3). If you have any questions about the paper or
issues downloading, please don't hesitate to contact me (avancise at gmail.com)
or Amy Apprill (aapprill at whoi.edu).


*Background:* Host-specific microbiomes play an important role in
individual health and ecology; in marine mammals, epidermal microbiomes may
be a protective barrier between the host and its aqueous environment.
Understanding these epidermal-associated microbial communities, and their
ecological-or health-driven variability, is the first step toward
developing health indices for rapid assessment of individual or population
health. In Cook Inlet, Alaska, an endangered population of beluga
whales (*Delphinapterus
leucas*) numbers fewer than 300 animals and continues to decline, despite
more than a decade of conservation effort. Characterizing the epidermal
microbiome of this species could provide insight into the ecology and
health of this endangered population and allow the development of minimally
invasive health indicators based on tissue samples.

*Results:* We sequenced the hypervariable IV region of bacterial and
archaeal SSU rRNA genes from epidermal tissue samples collected from
endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales (n = 33) and the nearest neighboring
population in Bristol Bay (n = 39) between 2012 and 2018. We examined the
sequences using amplicon sequence variant (ASV)- based analyses, and no
ASVs were associated with all individuals, indicating a greater degree of
epidermal microbiome variability among beluga whales than in previously
studied cetacean species and suggesting the absence of a species-specific
core microbiome. Epidermal microbiome composition differed significantly
between populations and across sampling years. Comparing the microbiomes of
Bristol Bay individuals of known health status revealed 11 ASVs associated
with potential pathogens that differed in abundance between healthy
individuals and those with skin lesions or dermatitis. Molting and
non-molting individuals also differed significantly in microbial diversity
and the abundance of potential pathogen-associated ASVs, indicating the
importance of molting in maintaining skin health.

*Conclusions:* We provide novel insights into the dynamics of Alaskan
beluga whale epidermal microbial communities. A core epidermal microbiome
was not identified across all animals. We characterize microbial dynamics
related to population, sampling year and health state including level of
skin molting. The results of this study provide a basis for future work to
understand the role of the skin microbiome in beluga whale health and to
develop health indices for management of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga
whales, and cetaceans more broadly.

Warm regards,


<*)))><  <*)))><  <*)))><  <*)))><  <*)))><  <*)))><  <*)))><  <*)))><
Amy M. Van Cise, Ph.D. <https://amyvancise.weebly.com/>

Research Associate, North Gulf Oceanic Society
Visiting Scientist, Genetics and Evolution Program
NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center
2725 Montlake Blvd E
Seattle, WA
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