Warts this? Pigmented ear lesions and a novel papillomavirus in an introduced population of Boodies on Faure Island

Authors: Amanda Bourne1, Fiona Knox2,3, David Forshaw4, Tim Hyndman2, Bryony Palmer1
1Australian Wildlife Conservancy; 2Murdoch University, Western Australia; 3Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Western Australia; 4Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia

 

Background:

Unusual pigmented ear lesions have been detected in an introduced population of Burrowing Bettongs (Boodies, Bettongia lesueur) on Faure Island in Western Australia, a feral-free property managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Despite being the largest population of Boodies in Australia, Faure Island Boodies were not used for a recent translocation elsewhere due to uncertainty about the health implications of the ear lesions. We conducted an investigation into the cause and health impacts of the ear lesions in order to inform future translocations of the species.

 

ear lesions
Photographs of pigmented ear lesions found on Boodies at Faure Island. Top left: no lesions, top right: mild lesions, bottom left: moderate lesions, and bottom right: severe lesions.

We found a significant association between the presence of ear lesions and a novel papillomavirus. Specifically, the odds of detecting the papillomavirus were 9.3 times higher in Boodies with ear lesions (95% CI: 2.28-37.9; p= 0.001) compared to those without lesions.

 

Faure Island bettong

We found:

  • No difference in the probability of having lesions or testing positive for the papillomavirus by sex or age.
  • No association between the presence of lesions or the papillomavirus and body condition, weight, pes:mass ratio or reproductive status.

Ear lesions have now been recorded at three other island Boodie populations and the papillomavirus detected at one other island population, see map below. Neither lesions nor the papillomavirus have been detected at any of the mainland populations.

 

Awc Ear Lesions Map

 

We found no detectable health impacts of either the lesions or the papillomavirus. Both afflictions have now been recorded at three additional sites, including those that were used to source founders for reintroduced populations on the Australian mainland. Therefore, the lesions likely present a low risk of using the Faure Island Boodie population as a source for future conservation translocations.

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