Marine mammal skin microbiotas are influenced by host phylogeny

Amy Apprill, Carolyn A. Miller, Amy M. van Cise, Jana M. U’Ren, Matthew S. Leslie, Laura Weber, Robin W. Baird, Jooke Robbins, Scott Landry, Andrea Bogomolni, Gordon Waring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Skin-associated microorganisms have been shown to play a role in immune function and disease of humans, but are understudied in marine mammals, a diverse animal group that serve as sentinels of ocean health. We examined the microbiota associated with 75 epidermal samples opportunistically collected from nine species within four marine mammal families, including: Balaenopteridae (sei and fin whales), Phocidae (harbour seal), Physeteridae (sperm whales) and Delphinidae (bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and melon-headed whales). The skin was sampled from free-ranging animals in Hawai‘i (Pacific Ocean) and off the east coast of the United States (Atlantic Ocean), and the composition of the bacterial community was examined using the sequencing of partial small subunit (SSU) ribosomal RNA genes. Skin microbiotas were significantly different among host species and taxonomic families, and microbial community distance was positively correlated with mitochondrial-based host genetic divergence. The oceanic location could play a role in skin microbiota variation, but skin from species sampled in both locations is necessary to determine this influence. These data suggest that a phylosymbiotic relationship may exist between microbiota and their marine mammal hosts, potentially providing specific health and immune-related functions that contribute to the success of these animals in diverse ocean ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number192046
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Bacteria
  • Marine mammal
  • Microorganism
  • Phylogeny
  • SSU ribosomal RNA gene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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