Animal health in a changing arctic

By dr. Maarten Loonen

The Arctic is characterized as a cold, remote and isolated area with a burst of life in a short summer. Only well adapted species are able to survive and reproduce. Little is known about adaptations of parasites and pathogens to this extreme environment. In this presentation I want to explore the role of parasites and pathogens in the Arctic and possible implications of expected changes towards a warming climate and increased levels of pollution. I will mainly focus on birds and terrestrial mammals though the stories might be similar for marine life. Parasites, pathogens and their hosts are characterized by a large variation in taxa and life history and many relations are species-specific. There is an arms race between the parasite and pathogen on one hand and the host on the other and both are aiming for optimal survival. Hosts have developed a complex immune system, roughly divided in a first line of defence (innate immunity) and a capacity to adapt and improve the defence in future (adaptive immunity). As there are usually costs involved in the battle against parasites and hosts and sometimes the costs might exceed the benefits resulting in a stable association. In this presentation, I will show some of the effects of parasites and pathogens on arctic bird and mammal populations. It will be clear that the occurrence of infections decreases with latitude. As an adaptation to the Arctic environment there are examples of reduced immunocompetence which make Arctic adapted species even more vulnerable for change which are predicted in their habitat for the near future.
Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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