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The potential effects of repeated outbreaks of phocine distemper among harbour seals: a response to Harding et al. (2002)

Authors

  • Mike Lonergan,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, The Observatory, University of St Andrews, Buchanan Gardens, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9LZ, UK
      * E-mail: mel@mcs.st-and.ac.uk
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  • John Harwood

    1. Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, The Observatory, University of St Andrews, Buchanan Gardens, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9LZ, UK
    2. NERC Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK
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* E-mail: mel@mcs.st-and.ac.uk

Abstract

In 2002 phocine distemper virus (PDV) reappeared in the European harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) population. This outbreak seems to have followed a similar pattern to the 1988 one which killed almost 60% of individuals in most localities. Harding et al. (2002) suggested that there is a relatively high (18%) risk that recurrent outbreaks of PDV could reduce the European harbour seal population by 90%. We show that incorporating the effects of observation error during population surveys and of the long-term immunity of survivors of morbillivirus outbreaks indicate a much lower level of risk (<1%). This suggests that, while the immediate effects of the disease are dramatic, it is unlikely that recurrent epidemics will pose serious conservation problems for this species under current conditions.

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