Land Use, Macroalgae, and a Tumor-Forming Disease in Marine Turtles

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Wildlife diseases are an increasing concern for endangered species conservation, but their occurrence, causes, and human influences are often unknown. We analyzed 3,939 records of stranded Hawaiian green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) over 28 years to understand fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-forming disease linked to a herpesvirus. Turtle size is a consistent risk factor and size-standardized models revealed considerable spatial and temporal variability. The disease peaked in some areas in the 1990s, in some regions rates remained constant, and elsewhere rates increased. Land use, onshore of where the turtles feed, may play a role. Elevated disease rates were clustered in watersheds with high nitrogen-footprints; an index of natural and anthropogenic factors that affect coastal eutrophication. Further analysis shows strong epidemiological links between disease rates, nitrogen-footprints, and invasive macroalgae and points to foraging ecology. These turtles now forage on invasive macroalgae, which can dominate nutrient rich waters and sequester environmental N in the amino acid arginine. Arginine is known to regulate immune activity, promote herpesviruses, and contribute to tumor formation. Our results have implications for understanding diseases in aquatic organisms, eutrophication, herpesviruses, and tumor formation.





Van Houtan,Kyle S.;Hargrove,Stacy K.;Balazs,George H.. 2010. Land Use, Macroalgae, and a Tumor-Forming Disease in Marine Turtles. Plos One 5(9): e12900-e12900.

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