Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology

Health assessment of free-ranging endangered Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) pups: effect of haematophagous parasites on haematological parameters.

PMID 25724096


Evaluation of the health status of free-ranging populations is important for understanding the impact of disease on individuals and on population demography and viability. In this study, haematological reference intervals were developed for free-ranging endangered Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) pups within the context of endemic hookworm (Uncinaria sanguinis) infection and the effects of pathogen, host, and environment factors on the variability of haematological parameters were investigated. Uncinaria sanguinis was identified as an important agent of disease, with infection causing regenerative anaemia, hypoproteinaemia, and a predominantly lymphocytic-eosinophilic systemic inflammatory response. Conversely, the effects of sucking lice (Antarctophthirus microchir) were less apparent and infestation in pups appears unlikely to cause clinical impact. Overall, the effects of U. sanguinis, A. microchir, host factors (standard length, body condition, pup sex, moult status, and presence of lesions), and environment factors (capture-type and year of sampling) accounted for 26-65% of the total variance observed in haematological parameters. Importantly, this study demonstrated that anaemia in neonatal Australian sea lion pups is not solely a benign physiological response to host-environment changes, but largely reflects a significant pathological process. This impact of hookworm infection on pup health has potential implications for the development of foraging and diving behaviour, which would subsequently influence the independent survival of juveniles following weaning. The haematological reference intervals developed in this study can facilitate long-term health surveillance, which is critical for the early recognition of changes in disease impact and to inform conservation management.

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