Populations of large wildlife are declining around the world, while zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to humans) are on the rise.
A team of Smithsonian scientists and colleagues have discovered a possible link between the two. They found that in East Africa, the loss of large wildlife directly correlated with a significant increase in rodents, which often carry disease-causing bacteria dangerous to humans. The team's research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 28.
Smithsonian scientists found that when large wildlife like zebras decline on the African savanna, either due to a decreasing population or human made barriers like roads and fences, it can a significant increase in rodents, which often carry disease-causing bacteria dangerous to humans.
"Our study shows us that ecosystem health, wildlife health and human health are all related," said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and co-author of the research.
Large animals, such as elephants, giraffes, antelope and zebras, have a profound influence on their ecosystems by feeding on vast amounts of vegetation and compacting and disturbing soil. As populations of these large species decline, the ecosystems they once dominated change in many ways.
The team's main question was whether the loss of large wildlife influences the risk of people contracting diseases spread by rodents—a pressing question, as more than 60 percent of infectious human diseases are zoonotic.
"Understanding the linkages between biodiversity loss and zoonotic disease is important for both public health and nature conservation programs," said Hillary Young, former Smithsonian post-doctoral fellow and current assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "While this correlation has been the topic of much scientific debate, ours is one of the only studies to offer clear experimental evidence." Young is the lead author of the research paper.
Using 24 acres of savanna that had been fenced off for 15 years to keep large animals out in central Kenya, the scientists examined rodent populations inside and outside the area for three years.
They also tracked the presence of Bartonella infections in the rodents and their fleas. Bartonella, a group of bacteria found around the world, can cause bartonellosis in humans—an infectious disease that can lead to joint swelling, liver damage, memory loss and other symptoms.
The team regularly trapped rodents in the area, represented by several species of mice, rats and gerbils. Each rodent was identified to species, sexed, weighed and marked. A blood sample and fleas, if they were present, were collected from each rodent for testing before it was released where it was captured.
The team found that rodent and, consequently, flea abundance doubled inside the area that excluded large wildlife. Without having to compete with large animals for food, the rodent population grew twofold. When the rodents and fleas in the area doubled, the team found that those infected with Bartonella doubled as well.
The removal of large wildlife from the ecosystem could be directly linked to the increase in rodents and the rodent-borne disease, thus increasing risk to humans. These results suggest that a partial solution to problems of rodent-borne disease could come in the form of wildlife conservation.
"Africa's large wildlife faces many threats—elephants, rhinos and other large mammals continue to decline in the face of growing human populations, expanding agriculture and the impacts of poaching and wildlife trade," said Helgen. "While we know that conservation is good for wildlife and for economies reliant on tourism, our study shows a less-intuitive dimension of conservation that could greatly benefit the people living alongside wildlife."
This study is the first of several more to come. The team plans to expand its research to a wider suite of infectious diseases to see which might respond similarly and which do not. They will also undertake further studies not only in carefully controlled experimental sites but in the "real world" where humans have already altered the landscape and eradicated much of the large wildlife.
The team's research has implications well beyond Africa. "While rodent-borne diseases are a major issue in Africa, they are everywhere—Europe, Asia, North and South America," Young said. "What we find here may very well be applicable in other parts of the world."
John Gibbons | Eurek Alert!
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences