Linking morbillivirus exposure to individual habitat use of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) between geographically different sites.


Cloyed CS(1)(2), Balmer BC(3), Schwacke LH(3), Takeshita R(3), Hohn A(4), Wells RS(5), Rowles TK(6), Saliki JT(7), Smith CR(3), Tumlin MC(8), Zolman ES(3), Fauquier DA(6), Carmichael RH(1)(2).
Author information:
(1)Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL, USA.
(2)Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA.
(3)National Marine Mammal Foundation, San Diego, CA, USA.
(4)NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Beaufort, NC, USA.
(5)Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, FL, USA.
(6)NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, MD, USA.
(7)Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.
(8)Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Baton Rouge, LA, USA.


Dolphin morbillivirus (DMV) is a virulent pathogen that causes high mortality outbreaks in delphinids globally and is spread via contact among individuals. Broadly ranging nearshore and open-ocean delphinids are likely reservoir populations that transmit DMV to estuarine populations. We assessed the seroprevalence of DMV antibodies and determined the habitat use of common bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus truncatus, from two estuarine sites, Barataria Bay and Mississippi Sound, in the northern Gulf of Mexico. We predicted that risk to DMV exposure in estuarine dolphins is driven by spatial overlap in habitat use with reservoir populations. Serum was collected from live-captured dolphins and tested for DMV antibodies. Habitat use of sampled individuals was determined by analysing satellite-tracked movements and stable isotope values. DMV seroprevalences were high among dolphins at Barataria Bay (37%) and Mississippi Sound (44%), but varied differently within sites. Ranging patterns of Barataria Bay dolphins were categorized into two groups: Interior and Island-associated. DMV seroprevalences were absent in Interior dolphins (0%) but high in Island-associated dolphins (45%). Ranging patterns of Mississippi Sound dolphins were categorized into three groups: Interior, Island-east and Island-west. DMV seroprevalences were detected across Mississippi Sound (Interior: 60%; Island-east: 20%; and Island-west: 43%). At both sites, dolphins in habitats with greater marine influence had enriched δ13 C values, and Barataria Bay dolphins with positive DMV titres had carbon isotope values indicative of marine habitats. Positive titres for DMV antibodies were more common in the lower versus upper parts of Barataria Bay but evenly distributed across Mississippi Sound. A dolphin's risk of exposure to DMV is influenced by how individual ranging patterns interact with environmental geography. Barataria Bay's partially enclosed geography likely limits the nearshore or open-ocean delphinids that carry DMV from interacting with dolphins that use interior, estuarine habitats, decreasing their exposure to DMV. Mississippi Sound's relatively open geography allows for greater spatial overlap and mixing among estuarine, nearshore and/or open-ocean cetaceans. The spread of DMV, and likely other diseases, is affected by the combination of individual movements, habitat use and the environment.