Faculty Seed Grant Projects

Parasite spillover from invasive to native species

Investigators:
  • Dr. Luis E. Escobar, Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  • Dr. Lisa Belden, Biological Sciences
  • Dr. Megan Kirchgessner, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
  • Dr. Anne M. Zajac, College of Veterinary Medicine
 

Figure 1. Black bear (ursus americans) that died of sarcoptic mange. Photo credit: Knox Peltier, S.

Invasive species are one of the main drivers of global change; they are associated with disequilibrium of depredator-prey dynamics and food webs, altering the entire biological community. Invasive species can carry parasites and pathogens with potential negative impacts to native species. For example, diseases transmitted by invasive species can (i) generate losses of biodiversity (e.g., Chytridiomycosis transmitted to native amphibians by the invasive African clawed frog in Chile , (ii) affect food animal production (e.g., Tuberculosis transmitted to cattle by the invasive bushtail opossum in New Zealand, (iii) and impact public health (e.g., transmission of arboviruses by the invasive tiger mosquito in the United States. However, disease transmission by invasive species have been considered just recently in global change research. Understanding how invasive species can spill diseases over native populations would help to understand past epidemics and forecast further outbreaks. This information could inform public health intelligence and wildlife conservation plans in local and global contexts.

Sarcoptic mange is a parasitic disease caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. This dog-borne disease is affecting native wildlife, from wolf in North America and Europe to cheetah in Africa and wombats in Tazmania. In Virginia, sarcoptic mange is an emergent disease affecting American black bears with an impressive severity (Fig. 1). In recent years, wildlife authorities in Virginia have found a series of outbreaks in bear populations (Fig. 2), but little is known of the potential of this exotic disease on local wildlife. This project aims to (1) assess the global epidemiology of sarcoptic mange in wildlife and (2) quantify the potential effects of landscape change on sarcoptic mange in bears in Virginia. For Aim 1, we will collect data from literature via a metaanalysis focused to capture the information on the most affected geographic areas, species, and seasons, and the parasite lineages linked to incremented virulence, and will complement this information with an international workshop of mange in wildlife. This will allow us invite renowned researchers in this area to obtain information from the original sources and build a first-of-its-kind network of collaboration to assemble a robust multiyear proposal.

 

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