Climate is changing rapidly in the Arctic. This has important implications for parasites of Arctic ungulates, and hence for the welfare of Arctic peoples who depend on caribou, reindeer, and muskoxen for food, income, and a focus for cultural activities. In this Opinion article we briefly review recent work on the development of predictive models for the impacts of climate change on helminth parasites and other pathogens of Arctic wildlife, in the hope that such models may eventually allow proactive mitigation and conservation strategies. We describe models that have been developed using the metabolic theory of ecology. The main strength of these models is that they can be easily parameterized using basic information about the physical size of the parasite. Initial results suggest they provide important new insights that are likely to generalize to a range of host-parasite systems.
An adult male muskox ( Ovibos moschatus ), harvested on 26 August 2014 on Victoria Island, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic, had proliferative dermatitis on the muzzle and fetlocks suggestive of contagious ecthyma or orf (Parapoxvirus). Histopathologic features of the lesions were consistent with this diagnosis. Orf virus DNA, phylogenetically similar to an isolate from a captive muskox of the Minnesota Zoo, US, was detected in the lesions by PCR using Parapoxvirus primers. Additionally, there was a metaphyseal abscess with a cortical fistula in the right metacarpus from which Brucella suis biovar 4 was isolated and identification supported by PCR. Brucella spp. antibodies were detected in serum. Finally, 212 nodules were dissected from the lungs. Fecal analysis and lung examination demonstrated co-infection with the lungworms Umingmakstrongylus pallikuukensis and Varestrongylus eleguneniensis. The zoonotic potential of orf and rangiferine brucellosis adds an important public health dimension to this case, particularly given that muskoxen are a valuable source of food for Arctic residents. Careful examination of these pathogens at a population level is needed as they may contribute to muskox population decline and potentially constitute a driver of food insecurity for local communities. This case underscores the importance of wildlife health surveillance as a management tool to conserve wildlife populations and maintain food security in subsistence-oriented communities.
Herpesviruses (HVs) have a wide range of hosts in the animal kingdom. The result of infection with HVs can vary from asymptomatic to fatal diseases depending on subtype, strain, and host. To date, little is known about HVs naturally circulating in wildlife species and the impact of these viruses on other species. In our study, we used genetic and comparative approaches to increase our understanding of circulating HVs in Canadian wildlife. Using nested polymerase chain reaction targeting a conserved region of the HV DNA polymerase gene, we analyzed material derived from wildlife of western and northern Canada collected between February 2009 and Sept 2014. For classification of new virus sequences, we compared our viral sequences with published sequences in GenBank to identify conserved residues and motifs that are unique to each subfamily, alongside phylogenetic analysis. All alphaherpesviruses shared a conserved tryptophan (W856) and tyrosine (Y880), betaherpesviruses all shared a serine (S836), and gammaherpesviruses had a conserved glutamic acid (E835). Most of our wildlife HV sequences grouped together with HVs from taxonomically related host species. From Martes americana, we detected previously uncharacterized alpha- and beta-herpesviruses.
The Protostrongylidae is a diverse family of nematodes capable of causing significant respiratory and neuromuscular disease in their ungulate and lagomorph hosts. Establishing the species diversity and abundance of the protostrongylid fauna has been hindered because the first stage larvae, commonly referred as dorsal spined larvae (DSL), that are shed in the feces are morphologically very similar among several genera. We aimed to determine the protostrongylid diversity and distribution in caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus and R. t. pearyi) in the central and high Canadian Arctic. We first developed, tested and validated a morphological diagnostic guide for the DSL of two important protostrongylids, Parelaphostrongylus andersoni and Varestrongylus eleguneniensis, and then applied this guide to determine the prevalence and intensity of infection of these parasites in fecal samples from 242 caribou. We found that DSL of V. eleguneniensis and P. andersoni can be differentiated morphologically based on the structural differences at the caudal extremity. The presentation and morphology of the dorsal spine, and caudoventral bulging at the start of the tail extension were identified as the key identifying features. The two species were found in caribou on the arctic mainland and southern Victoria Island in single and co-infections, but the prevalence and intensity of infection was low. No protostrongylids were detected in caribou from the high arctic islands. Through this study, we provide a simple, efficient, and robust method to distinguish the DSL of the two protostrongylids, and present the current status of infection in different herds of caribou of the central Canadian Arctic. We report new geographic and host records for P. andersoni infection in Dolphin and Union caribou herd.
Muskoxen (Ovibos moschlatus moschatus) on the northwestern mainland of Nunavut and Northwest Territories, Canada, are infected with the protostrongylid lungworm, Umingmaksrongylus pallikuuhkensis. The geographic range of this muskox population is expanding to the south and west, and it is anticipated that these animals will eventually become sympatric with Dall's sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) in the Mackenzie and Richardson Mountains. To address the concern of wildlife managers that U. pallikulkensis may infect and adversely affect Dalls sheep, four Dalls/Stone's (Ovis dalli stonei) hybrid lambs and one adult muskox (Ovibos moschatus wardi) were each given 100 third-stage larvae of U. pallikuukensis. All animals were intensively monitored for 9 mo postinfection (PI) using clinical examinations, fecal analyses, hematology, blood chiemistry and medical imaging. No first-stage larvae of U. pallikuinkensis were recovered from the lambs and monitoring revealed nio evidence that the parasite had established in any of these animals. First-stage larvae were found in the feces of the muskox beginning at 94 days PI, and typical parasite cysts were visible in lung radiographs at 188 days PI. This study addresses an important management and wildlife health issue associated with the potential for host-switching of pathogens and indicates that it is improbable that thinhorn sheep are suitable hosts for U. pallikuukensis.
Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) are increasingly subject to multiple new stressors associated with unprecedented climate change and increased anthropogenic activities across much of their range. Hair may provide a measurement of stress hormones (glucocorticoids) over periods of weeks to months. We developed a reliable method to quantify cortisol in the qiviut (wooly undercoat) of muskoxen using liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. We then applied this technique to determine the natural variability in qiviut cortisol levels among 150 wild muskoxen, and to assess differences between sexes, seasons and years of collection. Qiviut samples were collected from the rump of adult muskoxen by subsistence and sport hunters in seven different locations in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories between 2013 and 2016. Results showed a high inter-individual variability in qiviut cortisol concentrations, with levels ranging from 3.5 to 48.9 pg/mg (median 11.7 pg/mg). Qiviut cortisol levels were significantly higher in males than females, and varied seasonally (summer levels were significantly lower than in fall and winter), and by year (levels significantly increased from 2013 to 2015). These differences may reflect distinct environmental conditions and the diverse stressors experienced, as well as physiological and/or behavioural characteristics. Quantification of qiviut cortisol may serve as a valuable tool for monitoring health and informing conservation and management efforts.
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Umingmakstrongylus pallikuukensis and Varestrongylus eleguneniensis are two potentially pathogenic lungworms of caribou and muskoxen in the Canadian Arctic. These parasites are currently undergoing northward range expansion at differential rates. It is hypothesized that their invasion and spread to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are in part driven by climate warming. However, very little is known regarding their physiological ecology, limiting our ability to parameterize ecological models to test these hypotheses and make meaningful predictions. In this study, the developmental parameters of V. eleguneniensis inside a gastropod intermediate host were determined and freezing survival of U. pallikuukensis and V. eleguneniensis were compared.
Slug intermediate hosts, Deroceras laeve, were collected from their natural habitat and experimentally infected with first-stage larvae (L1) of V. eleguneniensis. Development of L1 to third-stage larvae (L3) in D. laeve was studied at constant temperature treatments from 8.5 to 24 °C. To determine freezing survival, freshly collected L1 of both parasite species were held in water at subzero temperatures from -10 to -80 °C, and the number of L1 surviving were counted at 2, 7, 30, 90 and 180 days.
The lower threshold temperature (T0) below which the larvae of V. eleguneniensis did not develop into L3 was 9.54 °C and the degree-days required for development (DD) was 171.25. Both U. pallikuukensis and V. eleguneniensis showed remarkable freeze tolerance: more than 80% of L1 survived across all temperatures and durations. Larval survival decreased with freezing duration but did not differ between the two species.
Both U. pallikuukensis and V. eleguneniensis have high freezing survival that allows them to survive severe Arctic winters. The higher T0 and DD of V. eleguneniensis compared to U. pallikuukensis may contribute to the comparatively slower range expansion of the former. Our study advances knowledge of Arctic parasitology and provides ecological and physiological data that can be useful for parameterizing ecological models.