Spatial variation and low diversity in the major histocompatibility complex in walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)

Polar Biology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Increased global temperature and associated changes to Arctic habitats will likely result in the northward advance of species, including an influx of pathogens novel to the Arctic. How species respond to these immunological challenges will depend in part on the adaptive potential of their immune response system. We compared levels of genetic diversity at a gene associated with adaptive immune response [Class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC), DQB exon 2] between populations of walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), a sea ice-dependent Arctic species. Walrus was represented by only five MHC DQB alleles, with frequency differences observed between Pacific and Atlantic populations. MHC DQB alleles appear to be under balancing selection, and most (80 %; n = 4/5) of the alleles were observed in walruses from both oceans, suggesting broad scale differences in the frequency of exposure and diversity of pathogens may be influencing levels of heterozygosity at DQB in walruses. Limited genetic diversity at MHC, however, suggests that walrus may have a reduced capacity to respond to novel immunological challenges associated with shifts in ecological communities and environmental stressors predicted for changing climates. This is particularly pertinent for walrus, since reductions in summer sea ice may facilitate both northward expansion of marine species and associated pathogens from more temperate regions, and exchange of marine mammals and associated pathogens through the recently opened Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the Canadian high Arctic.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Spatial variation and low diversity in the major histocompatibility complex in walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)
Series title Polar Biology
DOI 10.1007/s00300-014-1450-9
Volume 37
Issue 4
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Springer-Verlag
Publisher location Heidelberg
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Description 10 p.
First page 497
Last page 506
Other Geospatial Arctic, Atlantic Ocean, Northwest Passage, Pacific Ocean
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N