Responses of Small Mammals to Habitat Fragmentation: Epidemiological Considerations for Rodent-Borne Hantaviruses in the Americas
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Rodent-borne hantaviruses are a group of zoonotic agents that cause hemorrhagic fever in humans. The transmission of hantaviruses among rodent hosts may be higher with the increase of reservoir host abundance in a given area (density-dependent transmission) and with the decrease of small mammal diversity (dilution effect phenomenon). These population and community parameters may be modified by habitat fragmentation; however, studies that focus on fragmentation and its effect on hantavirus infection risk are scarce. To further understanding of this issue, we assessed some population and community responses of rodents that may increase the risk for hantavirus transmission among wildlife hosts in the Americas. We conducted a meta-analysis of published studies to assess the responses of small mammals to fragmentation of native habitats, relative to patch size. Our analyses included five countries and 14 case studies for abundance of reservoir hosts (8 species) and 15 case studies for species richness. We found that a reduction of patch area due to habitat fragmentation is associated with increased reservoir host abundances and decreased small mammal richness, which is mainly due to the loss of non-host small mammals. According to these results, habitat fragmentation in the Americas should be considered as an epidemiological risk factor for hantavirus transmission to humans. These findings are important to assess potential risk of infection when fragmentation of native habitats occurs.
Keywordsdisease risk emerging infectious diseases meta-analysis patch size effect rodents zoonosis
We thank the Disease Ecology Group (FMVZ, UNAM), Gerardo Ceballos, Rurik List, Catherine Machalaba, and two anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions that improved this manuscript, and the Postgraduate Program (FMVZ, UNAM) for support. We are grateful to Carolyn Brown and Kendra Shannon (UNAM-Canada) for reviewing the English of an early version of this manuscript. A.V. Rubio is supported by a CONICYT Becas-Chile Scholarship.
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