, Volume 188, Issue 1, pp 289–302 | Cite as

Ecological drivers of Hepacivirus infection in a neotropical rodent inhabiting landscapes with various degrees of human environmental change

  • Julian Schmid
  • Andrea Rasche
  • Georg Eibner
  • Lara Jeworowski
  • Rachel A. Page
  • Victor Max Corman
  • Christian Drosten
  • Simone SommerEmail author
Community ecology – original research


Anthropogenic environmental change can impact community and population traits such as species diversity and population densities, which have been shown to influence the prevalence of viruses in wildlife reservoirs. In particular, host species resilient to changes in their natural habitat may increase in numbers, which in turn can affect the prevalence of directly transmitted viruses. We have carried out a survey of small mammal communities in three tropical landscapes differing in their degree of environmental change in Central Panama and investigated the effects of community changes on Hepacivirus prevalence. The modification of continuous habitat into partly connected or isolated habitat patches during the past century was linked to changes in species diversity and species assemblages, which was further associated with shifts in the abundance of generalist marsupial (Didelphis marsupialis, Philander opossum) and rodent (Proechimys semispinosus) species. The latter has become dominant in isolated habitat patches and was the only identified Hepacivirus host in our study system. Our analyses suggest that, in addition to the effects of host age and sex, host population density in interaction with sex ratio is a crucial predictor of infection probability. Although we found no significant relationships between species diversity per se and infection probability, the lowest prevalence detected in the landscape with the highest species diversity indicates that shifts in species assemblages (e.g. changes in the presence and abundance of marsupial predators) impact the host’s intraspecific contact rates, the probability of virus transmission and, thus, the virus prevalence. Our study additionally provides important data on the influence of human-induced landscape changes on infection probability and, therefore, on virus prevalence in wildlife and emphasizes the importance of a landscape-scale approach with concomitant consideration of the complex interactions between ecological factors.


Environmental change Species communities Species abundance and density Hepacivirus prevalence Proechimys semispinosus 



We thank the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá for providing the essential infrastructure for our fieldwork. We are grateful to the private landowners and the company Argos for granting us access to their terrains and we extend our thanks to all field assistants. We also thank Stefan Brändel for taking care of the research permits and Theresa Jones for proofreading. We are grateful to Mark Gillingham for the guidance of our statistical analyses and to Nina Schwensow for discussion. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the previous version of the manuscript. This research was funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG) and is part of the DFG Priority Program SPP 1596/2 Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Infectious Diseases (SO 428/9-1, 9-2 and DR 772/8-1).

Author contribution statement

SS and CD conceived and designed the study. SS, JS, GE and RP coordinated field work and data collection. JS and GE conducted the field work. AR and VC designed the virus screening assay and coordinated the lab work. LJ performed the virus screening. JS analysed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors played a vital part in the preparation and revision of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

442_2018_4210_MOESM1_ESM.docx (993 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 993 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation GenomicsUniversity of UlmUlmGermany
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteAncónRepublic of Panama
  3. 3.Institute of VirologyUniversity of Bonn Medical CentreBonnGermany
  4. 4.Institute of VirologyCharité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Corporate Member of Free University, Humboldt-University and Berlin Institute of HealthBerlinGermany
  5. 5.German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF)BonnGermany

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