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Exposure of breeding albatrosses to the agent of avian cholera: dynamics of antibody levels and ecological implications

Gamble, Amandine, Garnier, Romain, Jaeger, Audrey, Gantelet, Hubert, Thibault, Eric, Tortosa, Pablo, Bourret, Vincent, Thiebot, Jean-Baptiste, Delord, Karine, Weimerskirch, Henri, Tornos, Jérémy, Barbraud, Christophe, Boulinier, Thierry
Oecologia 2019 v.189 no.4 pp. 939-949
Pasteurella multocida, adults, antibodies, bacteria, birds, breeding, cholera, females, immune response, maternal immunity, monitoring, mortality, mothers, nestlings, pathogens, progeny, vaccination, vaccines, Indian Ocean
Despite critical implications for disease dynamics and surveillance in wild long-lived species, the immune response after exposure to potentially highly pathogenic bacterial disease agents is still poorly known. Among infectious diseases threatening wild populations, avian cholera, caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, is a major concern. It frequently causes massive mortality events in wild populations, notably affecting nestlings of Indian yellow-nosed albatrosses (Thalassarche carteri) in the Indian Ocean. If adults are able to mount a long-term immune response, this could have important consequences regarding the dynamics of the pathogen in the local host community and the potential interest of vaccinating breeding females to transfer immunity to their offspring. By tracking the dynamics of antibodies against P. multocida during 4 years and implementing a vaccination experiment in a population of yellow-nosed albatrosses, we show that a significant proportion of adults were naturally exposed despite high annual survival for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. Adult-specific antibody levels were thus maintained long enough to inform about recent exposure. However, only low levels of maternal antibodies could be detected in nestlings the year following a vaccination of their mothers. A modification of the vaccine formulation and the possibility to re-vaccinate females 2 years after the first vaccination revealed that vaccines have the potential to elicit a stronger and more persistent response. Such results highlight the value of long-term observational and experimental studies of host exposure to infectious agents in the wild, where ecological and evolutionary processes are likely critical for driving disease dynamics.