There and back again - The return of the nasal mite Halarachne halichoeri to seals in German waters
The nasal mite Halarachne halichoeri (Acari; Halarachnidae) is adapted to live in the marine environment with pinnipeds as its primary host and can cause different levels of upper respiratory disease in both harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). Historical reports of H. halichoeri occurring in seals from German waters date back to the end of the 19th century. However, with the disappearance of the grey seal from German waters as a consequence of human over-exploitation, the mite vanished from the records and the fauna found in Germany for more than a century. Although a stranding network has been monitoring marine mammal health along the German coasts since the mid 1980s with extensive post-mortem investigations, this study reports the first and subsequent findings of H. halichoeri in grey and harbour seals from the North and Baltic Sea from 2014 onwards. The re-emergence of this endoparasitic mite in North and Baltic Sea habitats seems to have occurred simultaneously with the recolonisation of its primary host, the grey seal. During the course of its recolonisation, it was probably transmitted to harbour seals sharing the same haul-out sites. Molecular analyses showed a high similarity of rDNA sequences with H. halichoeri collected from sea otters (Enhydra lutris) in the USA. However, more thorough analyses of additional gene loci are required to fully assess the exchange and diversity of this parasite between geographically isolated regions and species.
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