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Infectious diseases of Antarctic penguins: current status and future threats

Abstract

Until roughly 200 years ago, the Antarctic was untouched by humankind. With ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961, this region was set aside forever for peaceful purposes and as a science preserve. However, Antarctic national programs and tourism activities are growing, increasing the risks of introduction of infectious diseases into wildlife within the Antarctic Treaty area. The immunological naïveté of Antarctic species makes them vulnerable to pathogen’s commonplace in other parts of the world. We review past disease investigations of Antarctic penguins, and outline potential drivers of future disease emergence. Efforts to establish the nature of disease agents in Antarctic penguins, although ongoing since the late 1950s, remain not only patchy and limited in scope but are a lower priority issue for the majority of Antarctic Treaty parties. Pollution, increased connectivity, and global environmental change affecting pathogens and vectors at high latitudes are likely to drive future disease emergence in this region. However, a coordinated plan for disease emergence monitoring is lacking with no formally established programs in place, and surveillance is currently left up to individual interested research groups. We propose possible steps toward the goal of establishing baseline data and tracking infectious diseases in Antarctic penguin species, with the anticipated further increase in human activity and environmental changes in the Antarctic in mind.

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Acknowledgments

Funding was provided by a University of Otago Postgraduate Scholarship and the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. We would also like to thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments to improve this manuscript.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Grimaldi, W.W., Seddon, P.J., Lyver, P.O. et al. Infectious diseases of Antarctic penguins: current status and future threats. Polar Biol 38, 591–606 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-014-1632-5

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Keywords

  • Connectivity
  • Global environmental change
  • Human impact
  • Pathogen pollution
  • Spheniscidae
  • Surveillance