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

Lizabeth Bowen, A. Keith Miles, Jeffrey L Stott, Shannon Waters, Todd Atwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-120
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume529
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

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Keywords

  • Ecosystem health
  • Polar bear
  • Transcriptome
  • Unusual mortality event

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering

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