When the researchers compared their present-day maps with parasite distributions predicted for the future, they found that lemur parasites could expand their range by as much as 60 percent. Whipworms, for example, which are now largely confined to Madagascar's northeast and western coasts, may become widely distributed on the country's southeastern coast as well.
Anne Yoder, senior author on the study and Director of the Duke Lemur Center, said the research is particularly important now as lemurs have been identified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the most endangered mammals on earth.
Warmer weather means that parasites could grow and reproduce more quickly, or spread to higher latitudes and elevations where once they were unable to survive. As lemur parasites become more prevalent, the diseases they carry could show up in new places. The spread could be harmful to lemur populations that have never encountered these pests before, and lack resistance to the diseases they carry.
Shifting parasite distributions could have ripple effects on people too. As human population growth in Madagascar drives people and their livestock into previously uninhabited areas, wildlife-human disease transmission becomes increasingly likely.
The authors hope their results will help researchers predict where disease hotspots are likely to occur, and prepare for them before they hit.
Meredith Barrett is now a postdoctoral scholar with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Program at the University of California at San Francisco and Berkeley. Jason Brown of Duke University and Randall Junge of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium were also authors of this study.
|Contact: Robin Ann Smith|