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Decrease in large wildlife drives an increase in rodent-borne disease and risk to humans
Date:4/28/2014

presence of Bartonella infections in the rodents and their fleas. Bartonella, a group of bacteria found around the world, can cause bartonellosis in humansan 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 threatselephants, 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" wh
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Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-674-3434
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

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