Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
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Epidermal diseases in bottlenose dolphins: impacts of natural and anthropogenic factors

B. Wilson

B. Wilson

University of Aberdeen, Department of Zoology, Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty, Ross-shire IV11 8JY, UK

NERC Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, School of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK

[email protected]

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H. Arnold

H. Arnold

University of Aberdeen, Department of Zoology, Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty, Ross-shire IV11 8JY, UK

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G. Bearzi

G. Bearzi

Tethys Research Institute, Viale GB Gadio 2, I-20121Milano, Italy

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C. M. Fortuna

C. M. Fortuna

Tethys Research Institute, Viale GB Gadio 2, I-20121Milano, Italy

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R. Gaspar

R. Gaspar

NERC Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, School of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK

Parque Natural da Arrãbida/Reserva Natural do Estuãrio do Sado, Prac a da Repüblica, 2900 Setü bal, Portugal

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S. Ingram

S. Ingram

Zoology Department, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

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C. Liret

C. Liret

Dë partement Mammiferes Marins, Ocëanopolis, BP 411, 29275 Brest Cedex, France

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S. Pribanic

S. Pribanic

Tethys Research Institute, Viale GB Gadio 2, I-20121Milano, Italy

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A. J. Read

A. J. Read

Duke UniversityMarine Laboratory, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA

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V. Ridoux

V. Ridoux

Dë partement Mammiferes Marins, Ocëanopolis, BP 411, 29275 Brest Cedex, France

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K. Schneider

K. Schneider

Department of Marine Science, POBox 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

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K. W. Urian

K. W. Urian

Duke UniversityMarine Laboratory, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA

Chicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236, USA

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R. S. Wells

R. S. Wells

Chicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236, USA

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C. Wood

C. Wood

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, James StreetWest, Bath, Avon BA1 2BT, UK

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P. M. Thompson

P. M. Thompson

University of Aberdeen, Department of Zoology, Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty, Ross-shire IV11 8JY, UK

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P. S. Hammond

P. S. Hammond

NERC Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, School of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK

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    Experimental studies have highlighted the potential influence of contaminants on marine mammal immune function and anthropogenic contaminants are commonly believed to influence the development of diseases observed in the wild. However, estimates of the impact of contaminants on wild populations are constrained by uncertainty over natural variation in disease patterns under different environmental conditions. We used photographic techniques to compare levels of epidermal disease in ten coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) exposed to a wide range of natural and anthropogenic conditions. Epidermal lesions were common in all populations (affecting > 60% of individuals), but both the prevalence and severity of 15 lesion categories varied between populations. No relationships were found between epidermal disease and contaminant levels across the four populations for which toxicological data were available. In contrast, there were highly significant linear relationships with oceanographic variables. In particular, populations from areas of low water temperature and low salinity exhibited higher lesion prevalence and severity. Such conditions may impact on epidermal integrity or produce more general physiological stress, potentially making animals more vulnerable to natural infections or anthropogenic factors. These results show that variations in natural environmental factors must be accounted for when investigating the importance of anthropogenic impacts on disease in wild marine mammals.