Contaminants in Atlantic walruses in Svalbard part 1: Relationships between exposure, diet and pathogen prevalence

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Environmental Pollution



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Arctic, Brucella, Pollutants, Stable isotopes, Toxoplasma

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This study investigated relationships between organohalogen compound (OHC) exposure, feeding habits, and pathogen exposure in a recovering population of Atlantic walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus) from the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway. Various samples were collected from 39 free-living, apparently healthy, adult male walruses immobilised at three sampling locations during the summers of 2014 and 2015. Concentrations of lipophilic compounds (polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides and polybrominated diphenyl ethers) were analysed in blubber samples, and concentrations of perfluoroalkylated substances (PFASs) were determined in plasma samples. Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen were measured in seven tissue types and surveys for three infectious pathogens were conducted. Despite an overall decline in lipophilic compound concentrations since this population was last studied (2006), the contaminant pattern was similar, including extremely large inter-individual variation. Stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen showed that the variation in OHC concentrations could not be explained by some walruses consuming higher trophic level diets, since all animals were found to feed at a similar trophic level. Antibodies against the bacteria Brucella spp. and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii were detected in 26% and 15% of the walruses, respectively. Given the absence of seal-predation, T. gondii exposure likely took place via the consumption of contaminated bivalves. The source of exposure to Brucella spp. in walruses is still unknown. Parapoxvirus DNA was detected in a single individual, representing the first documented evidence of parapoxvirus in wild walruses. Antibody prevalence was not related to contaminant exposure. Despite this, dynamic relationships between diet composition, contaminant bioaccumulation and pathogen exposure warrant continuing attention given the likelihood of climate change induced habitat and food web changes, and consequently OHC exposure, for Svalbard walruses in the coming decades. This study reports levels of pollutants in comparison with diet and pathogen exposure in 39 male Atlantic walruses from Svalbard, Norway.







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