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Health and disease status in a threatened marsupial, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus)

Martínez-Pérez, Pedro (2016) Health and disease status in a threatened marsupial, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus). PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Between 1901 and 1931, there were at least six anecdotal records of disease outbreaks in mainland quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) that were associated with mass mortalities. This time period pre-dates the arrival of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Despite these outbreaks, little or no research has been carried out to establish health and disease baseline data of the fragmented and scattered, extant populations. Epidemiological data was determined for a range of potential pathogens, and established physiological reference intervals of apparently healthy, wild quokkas on Rottnest Island and mainland locations. There were significant differences between Rottnest Island and mainland quokkas. Rottnest Island animals had haemograms with mark evidence of oxidative injury and bone marrow response consistent with a regenerative normocytic hypochromic anaemia. Except alkaline phosphatase (ALP), all blood chemistry analytes where higher in mainland animals, with particular emphasis on creatine kinase (CK), alanine amino transferase (ALT), aspartate amino transferase (AST) and vitamin E. Some other key findings include a widespread presence of a novel herpesvirus (MaHV-6), the recovery of Cryptococcus neoformans var. grubii from quokkas in highly altered ecosystems on Rottnest Island, and new Salmonella spp. serovars in Rottnest Island quokkas. Atypical lymphocytes resembling those in proliferative disorders of the lymphoid and haematopoietic tissues in other species were observed in blood smears of animals on Rottnest Island but not on the mainland. The presence of potentially-pathogenic organisms is likely to increase synergistic effects of ongoing and future threats (e.g. habitat clearing, climate change), and could increase quokka extinction risk. Disease surveillance would make a valuable contribution to Recovery Plans for the quokka, enabling preparedness for a rapid response if clinical disease is to happen, and to manage populations in a more integrated way.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor(s): Fleming, Trish, Hyndman, Tim, Ryan, Una and Monaghan, Cree
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