Temporal and Regional Variability in the Skin Microbiome of Humpback Whales along the Western Antarctic Peninsula.
The skin is the first line of defense between an animal and its environment, and disruptions in skin-associated microorganisms can be linked to an animal's health and nutritional state. To better understand the skin microbiome of large whales, high-throughput sequencing of partial small subunit rRNA genes was used to study the skin-associated bacteria of 89 seemingly healthy humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) sampled along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) during early (2010) and late (2013) austral summers. Six core groups of bacteria were present in 93% or more of all humpback skin samples. A shift was observed in the average relative abundances of these core bacteria over time, with the emergence of four additional core groups of bacteria that corresponded to a decrease in water temperature, possibly caused by season- or foraging-related changes in skin biochemistry that influenced microbial growth, or other temporal factors. The skin microbiome differed between whales sampled at several regional locations along the WAP, suggesting that environmental factors or population may also influence the whale skin microbiome. Overall, the skin microbiome of humpback whales appears to provide insight into animal- and environment-related factors and may serve as a useful indicator for animal health or ecosystem alterations.IMPORTANCE The microbiomes of wild animals are currently understudied but may provide information about animal health and/or animal-environment interactions. In the largest sampling of any marine mammal microbiome, this study demonstrates conservation in the skin microbiome of 89 seemingly healthy humpback whales sampled in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, with shifts in the bacterial community composition related to temporal and regional variability. This study is important because it suggests that the skin microbiome of humpback whales could provide insight into animal nutritional or seasonal/environment-related factors, which are becoming increasingly important to recognize due to unprecedented rates of climate change and anthropogenic impact on ocean ecosystems.
Bierlich, KC; Miller, C; DeForce, E; Friedlaender, AS; Johnston, DW; Apprill, A
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