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Exploring the infection dynamics of a bacterial pathogen on a remote oceanic island reveals annual epizootics impacting an albatross population

By Audrey Jaeger, Amandine Gamble, Erwan Lagadec, Camille Lebarbenchon, Vincent Bourret, Jérémy Tornos, Christophe Barbraud, Karin Lemberger, Karine Delord, Henri Weimerskirch, Jean-Baptiste Thiebot, Thierry Boulinier, Pablo Tortosa

Posted 23 Jul 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/711283

Oceanic islands with reduced species richness provide an opportunity to investigate the emergence, maintenance and transmission of infectious diseases threatening wildlife. On Amsterdam Island, in the southern Indian Ocean, massive and recurrent mortality of the nestlings of Indian yellow-nosed albatross (Thalassarche carteri) has been attributed to avian cholera caused by Pasteurella multocida, a bacterial pathogen of likely human introduction. To understand the annual dynamics of pathogen prevalence, we measured the shedding of bacterial DNA by the albatrosses during four successive breeding seasons. The screening of 583 bird swabs by Real-Time PCR revealed an intense circulation of P. multocida during each study year, with a steady increase of infection prevalence across the breeding season. In the three years of highest pathogen prevalence, the epizootics were associated with massive die-offs of nestlings, inducing low annual fledging success (< 20%). These findings and developed PCR protocol have crucial applications for refining wildlife conservation plans aiming at controlling this disease.

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