Polar Biology

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 1019–1025 | Cite as

Morphometric, molecular and histopathologic description of hepatic infection by Orthosplanchnus arcticus (Trematoda: Digenea: Brachycladiidae) in ringed seals (Pusa hispida) from Northwest Greenland

  • Emilie Andersen-RanbergEmail author
  • Kristina Lehnert
  • Páll S. Leifsson
  • Rune Dietz
  • Steen Andersen
  • Ursula Siebert
  • Lena Measures
  • Christian Sonne
Short Note


For the first time in > 30 years of routine sampling under the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, a parasite was found in the liver of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) collected near Qaanaaq (Thule), Northwest Greenland, in 2008 and 2014. Concerns regarding changes to parasite occurrence, possibly related to climate change and bioaccumulation of immunomodulating anthropogenic pollutants, spurred further investigations into parasite characterization, and implications for wildlife health and seal hunters. Microscopic, molecular, and morphometric analyses are presented herein. Of 40 seals, 6 (15%) were infected, and 5 of 6 of these seals had severe infections. The parasite was identified morphologically as Orthosplanchnus arcticus Odhner, 1905 (Trematoda; Digenea: Brachycladiidae). Macro- and microscopic pathologic study indicated mild-to-severe biliary hyperplasia associated, stasis associated, and fibrosis associated with trematode infections. Molecular analysis of the trematode confirmed its classification within the Brachycladiidae using sequencing and comparing Internal Transcribed Spacer-1, mitochondrial-NADH Dehydrogenase 3, 18S ribosomal DNA, and Cyclooxygenase-1 regions. This is the first ever report of O. arcticus in ringed seals from Qaanaaq and is one of the most northern records of this parasite. We found significant liver pathology in severely infected seals, but its effects on health of seals in this population are unknown. Host-specificity and the lifecycle of O. arcticus are unknown, but transmission may involve subsistence and commercially harvested Arctic fish species. Further work is needed to answer these questions. Surveying parasites in Arctic wildlife is important in order to assess potential effects on wildlife and human health (i.e., zoonoses).


Trematoda Molecular identification PCR Morphometrics MT-ND3 Pinniped 



Danish Cooperation for Environment in the Arctic (Dancea), Infectious Zoonotic Diseases Transmissible from harvested Wildlife to humans in the European Arctic (ZORRO) supported by Nordic Council and the North Water Project (NOW) supported by the Velux Foundations and the Carlsberg Foundation are acknowledged for financial support, and local hunters for field support. We thank the Inuit hunter of Arctic Bay for providing an infected liver from a ringed seal hunted near the community in 1992.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

300_2017_2245_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (1.1 mb)
Online Resource 1 Map of Greenland indicating the sampling sites for ringed seals (Pusa hispida): within 10 km radius of the settlements Qaanaaq (Thule) and Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn). (JPEG 1168 kb)
300_2017_2245_MOESM2_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Online Resource 2 Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 24 kb)
300_2017_2245_MOESM3_ESM.jpg (87 kb)
Online Resource 3 Phylogenetic trees inferred from ND3 sequences of available sequences of Brachycladiidae from NCBI Genbank using the tree method of Maximum Likelihood. Left: phylogenetic tree (Fernández et al. 2000). Right: phylogenetic tree (present study). Note that right and left trees are similar except that with data from Orthosplanchnus arcticus a new branch is introduced and the position of Synthesium tursionis is changed. All accession numbers can be found in Fernández et al. 2000. (JPEG 87 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife ResearchUniversity of Veterinary Medicine HannoverBüsumGermany
  2. 2.Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medical SciencesUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksbergDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Bioscience, Faculty of Science and Technology, Arctic Research Centre (ARC)Aarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  4. 4.Hunters ScienceCopenhagen NDenmark
  5. 5.Maurice Lamontagne InstituteFisheries and Oceans CanadaMont-JoliCanada

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