New study shows climate change, maternal care, parasitic infection all connected in South American fur seals | 11/6/2018 | Staff
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South American fur seal pups with high levels of hookworm infection spend more time in the water, but that's not necessarily a good thing, report Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Georgia.

The team hypothesized the higher infection rates are due to a climate change chain reaction that forces pups' mothers to devote more time to searching for food, rather than providing the pups maternal care that can thwart parasites. The team recently published their study in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Finding - Relationship - Parasites - Hosts - Dr

"This was a surprising finding, but it helps us understand the full relationship these parasites have with their hosts, directly and indirectly," said Dr. Mauricio Seguel, a veterinary researcher at the University of Georgia. "More importantly, though, studies like this answer smaller parts of a bigger question: How much do our activities as humans impact animals?"

Hookworm infection is a significant health risk in South American fur seal populations. A separate Morris Animal Foundation-funded study, led by Dr. Seguel, determined more than 20 percent of fur seal pups die from parasitic infections every year.

Associations - Behavior - Disease - Effects - Climate

"It is important to understand these complex associations between animal behavior and disease that can reveal effects of climate change on ocean health" said Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Morris Animal Foundation Chief Scientific Officer. "This study shows pups with higher parasite loads and more time in the water as two outcomes of decreased maternal care, but there is more to the story and we are dedicated to discovering what that is."

Dr. Sequel's team studied pups at a fur seal colony on Guafo Island in southwestern Chile, where all pups show some degree of hookworm infection....
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