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Impact of Annual Bacterial Epizootics on Albatross Population on a Remote Island


The reduced species richness typical of oceanic islands provides an interesting environmental setup to examine in natura the epidemiological dynamics of infectious agents with potential implications for public health and/or conservation. On Amsterdam Island (Indian Ocean), recurrent die-offs of Indian yellow-nosed albatross (Thalassarche carteri) nestlings have been attributed to avian cholera, caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida. In order to help implementing efficient measures for the control of this disease, it is critical to better understand the local epidemiology of P. multocida and to examine its inter- and intra-annual infection dynamics. We evaluated the infection status of 264 yellow-nosed albatrosses over four successive breeding seasons using a real-time PCR targeting P. multocida DNA from cloacal swabs. Infection prevalence patterns revealed an intense circulation of P. multocida throughout the survey, with a steady but variable increase in infection prevalence within each breeding season. These epizootics were associated with massive nestling dies-offs, inducing very low fledging successes (≤ 20%). These results suggest important variations in the transmission dynamics of this pathogen. These findings and the developed PCR protocol have direct applications to guide future research and refine conservation plans aiming at controlling the disease.

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We are grateful to Romain Bazire, Marine Bely, Nicolas Giraud, Hélène Le Berre, and David Hémery for their help in the field, and Cédric Marteau, Romain Garnier, and Hubert Gantelet for help at various stages. This work was funded by the Réserve Nationale des Terres Australes Françaises, the French Polar Institute (IPEV programs ECOPATH-1151 and ORNITHO-ECO-109), le Ministère des Outre-Mer (MOM-2013), the Zone Atelier Antarctique ZATA CNRS-INEE, Labex CEMEB, and OSU OREME. This paper is a contribution to the Plan National d’Action Albatros d’Amsterdam. AG received a PhD fellowship from the French Ministry of Research and was later supported by NSF (DEB-1557022) and SERDP (RC-2635). CL is supported by a “chaire mixte INSERM – Université de La Réunion”.

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Authors and Affiliations



AJ, CL, and PT set up the quantitative PCR. TB, CB, and HW are responsible of the field research programs. AJ, TB, KD, JT, VB, JBT, and AG implemented the study in the field. AJ and EL implemented the molecular analyses. KL conducted the histological analyses. AG managed the data. AG and AJ conducted the data analyses. PT and AG led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pablo Tortosa.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Statement of Animal Ethics

The experimental design was approved by the Comité de l’Environnement Polaire and Comité National de Protection de la Nature (TAAF A-2013-71, A-2014-134, A-2015-107 and A-2016-80) and the French Ministry of Research (licence #04939.03).

Data Availability

The datasets and R code used in the current study are available on the OSU OREME online repository:

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Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 133 kb)

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Jaeger, A., Gamble, A., Lagadec, E. et al. Impact of Annual Bacterial Epizootics on Albatross Population on a Remote Island. EcoHealth 17, 194–202 (2020).

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