Physiological Ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 155, Issue 3, pp 429-439

First online:

Differential regulation of pathogens: the role of habitat disturbance in predicting prevalence of Sin Nombre virus

  • Erin M. LehmerAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Fort Lewis College Email author 
  • , Christine A. ClayAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Westminster College
  • , Jessica Pearce-DuvetAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Utah
  • , Stephen St. JeorAffiliated withDepartment of Microbiology, University of Nevada School of Medicine
  • , M. Denise DearingAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Utah

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Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are the primary reservoir for Sin Nombre virus (SNV), a North American hantavirus that causes disease with high mortality in humans. Recent studies have proposed that habitat disturbance affects prevalence of SNV in deer mice; however, the outcomes proposed in these studies are in opposition to each other. Our objectives were to test these divergent hypotheses by: (1) measuring SNV infection in deer mice within a patchwork of disturbance; and (2) evaluating the relationships between SNV prevalence, population density and demography as possible mechanisms. In 2003 and 2004, we sampled 1,297 deer mice from 17 sites with varying levels of disturbance in the Great Basin Desert. Across sites and years, SNV prevalence varied from 0.0 to 38.9%. We found a negative relationship between SNV prevalence and disturbance. Although we found no direct relationship between SNV prevalence and deer mouse density, we found that density was highest on sites with the lowest levels of disturbance. The number of deer mice that survived across seasons (e.g., trans-seasonal survivors) differed across levels of disturbance and was greatest on our least disturbed study sites \( (\ifmmode\expandafter\bar\else\expandafter\=\fi{x} = 14.00\% ), \) moderate on sites with intermediate levels of disturbance \( (\ifmmode\expandafter\bar\else\expandafter\=\fi{x} = 5.61\% ) \) and zero on highly disturbed sites. On low-disturbance sites, a greater proportion of trans-seasonal survivors were SNV seropositive (28.80%) compared to the intermediate-disturbance sites (16.67). Collectively, our results indicate that habitat disturbance plays a predictive role in SNV prevalence, with highly disturbed sites having reduced long-term survival of deer mice, including survival of infected individuals.


Deer mice Disease ecology Disturbance Hantavirus Sin Nombre virus