We demonstrate that the exhaled breath condensate, or ‘blow’, from marine mammals can be used to examine respiratory associated microbial communities using non-invasive sampling methods. Blow samples from two species of bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus and T. aduncus, along with hybrid offspring, were examined using molecular microbial ecology methods. A temporal analysis revealed that microbial community structure of each individual remained distinct from other individuals over a two-month period, indicting strong host specificity. The taxonomic composition of samples, based on pyrosequencing of the V1–V3 regions of the 16S rRNA gene, from 24 healthy individuals was dominated by the Cardiobacteraceae lineage of Gammaproteobacteria, comprising on average 52% of sequences in all samples. Sequences in this taxa were associated with novel clades that contain only sequences from dolphin respiratory tracts. Other genera that likely form part of the core biota include the Saccharospirillaceae (Gammaproteobacteria), Arcobacter (Epsilonproteobacteria), Hydrogenimonaceae (Epsilonproteobacteria), Halotalea (Gammaproteobacteria), Aquimarina (Flavobacteria) and Helococcus (Clostridia). Significant differences between samples from different species were observed only at the species/ strain level, driven by the relative contributions of strains from the most common phylogenetic lineages. Analysis of communities associated with hybrid animals provides tentative evidence for a paternal role in community assembly. Clear overlap was observed with data collected by capture and swabbing of bottlenose dolphins blowholes, indicating this method provides a novel non-invasive alternative to monitoring marine mammal population health.
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