[MARMAM] New paper on airway microbiota in dolphins

Catharina Vendl c.vendl at unsw.edu.au
Tue Jan 19 04:17:49 PST 2021

Dear colleagues,

I would like to announce the publication of our new open access paper in BMC microbiology:
Highly abundant core taxa in the blow within and across captive bottlenose dolphins provide evidence for a temporally stable airway microbiota

Check out the UNSW press release: https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/how-study-dolphin-airways-could-help-save-endangered-whales

The analysis of blow microbiota has been proposed as a biomarker for respiratory health analysis in cetaceans. Yet, we lack crucial knowledge on the long-term stability of the blow microbiota and its potential changes during disease. Research in humans and mice have provided evidence that respiratory disease is accompanied by a shift in microbial communities of the airways. We investigate here the stability of the community composition of the blow microbiota for 13 captive bottlenose dolphins over eight months including both sick and healthy individuals. We used barcoded tag sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene. Four of the dolphins experienced distinct medical conditions and received systemic antimicrobial treatment during the study.
We showed that each dolphin harboured a unique community of zero-radius operational taxonomic units (zOTUs) that was present throughout the entire sampling period (‘intra-core’). Although for most dolphins there was significant variation over time, overall the intra-core accounted for an average of 73% of relative abundance of the blow microbiota. In addition, the dolphins shared between 8 and 66 zOTUs on any of the sampling occasions (‘inter-core’), accounting for a relative abundance between 17 and 41% of any dolphin’s airway microbiota. The majority of the intra-core and all of the inter-core zOTUs in this study are commonly found in captive and free-ranging dolphins and have previously been reported from several different body sites. While we did not find a clear effect of microbial treatment on blow microbiota, age and sex of the dolphins did have such an effect.
The airways of dolphins were colonized by an individual intra-core ‘signature’ that varied in abundance relative to more temporary bacteria. We speculate that the intra-core bacteria interact with the immune response of the respiratory tract and support its function. This study provides the first evidence of individual-specific airway microbiota in cetaceans that is stable over eight months.


Catharina Vendl | DVM | PhD |

Inter-Disciplinary Ecology and Evolution Lab |

School of Biology, Earth & Environmental Sciences |

University of New South Wales Sydney | Australia |

Phone +61 4 1655 2101


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