The Influence of Genetic Variation on Susceptibility of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (<italic>Tursiops truncatus</italic>) to Harmful Algal Blooms

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Cammen, Kristina Marstrand


Read, Andrew J

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The capacity of marine organisms to adapt to natural and anthropogenic stressors is an integral component of ocean health. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which are one of many growing threats in coastal marine ecosystems, represent a historically present natural stressor that has recently intensified and expanded in geographic distribution partially due to anthropogenic activities. In the Gulf of Mexico, HABs of Karenia brevis occur almost annually and produce neurotoxic brevetoxins that have been associated with large-scale mortality events of many marine species, including the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). The factors resulting in large-scale dolphin mortality associated with HABs are not well understood, particularly in regards to the seemingly different impacts of HABs in geographically disjunct dolphin populations. My dissertation investigates a genetic basis for resistance to HABs in bottlenose dolphins in central-west Florida and the Florida Panhandle. I used both genome-wide and candidate gene approaches to analyze genetic variation in dolphins that died putatively due to brevetoxicosis and live dolphins from the same geographic areas that survived HAB events. Using restriction site-associated DNA sequencing, I identified genetic variation that suggested both a common genetic basis for resistance to HABs in bottlenose dolphins across the Gulf coast of Florida and regionally specific resistance. Many candidate genes involved in the immune, nervous, and detoxification systems were found in close genomic proximity to survival-associated polymorphisms throughout the bottlenose dolphin genome. I further investigated two groups of candidate genes, nine voltage-gated sodium channel genes selected because of their putative role in brevetoxin binding and four major histocompatibility complex (MHC) loci selected because of their genomic proximity to a polymorphism exhibiting a strong association with survival. I found little variation in the sodium channel genes and conclude that bottlenose dolphins have not evolved resistance to HABs via mutations in the toxin binding site. The immunologically relevant MHC loci were highly variable and exhibited patterns of genetic differentiation among geographic regions that differed from neutral loci; however, genetic variation at the MHC also could not fully explain variation in survival of bottlenose dolphins exposed to HABs. In my final chapter, I consider the advantages and drawbacks of the genome-wide approach in comparison to a candidate gene approach and, as laid out in my dissertation, I recommend using both complementary approaches in future investigations of adaptation in genome-enabled non-model organisms.






Cammen, Kristina Marstrand (2014). The Influence of Genetic Variation on Susceptibility of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to Harmful Algal Blooms. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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