Landscape Utilisation, Animal Behaviour and Hendra Virus Risk
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- Field, H.E., Smith, C.S., de Jong, C.E. et al. EcoHealth (2016) 13: 26. doi:10.1007/s10393-015-1066-8
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Hendra virus causes sporadic fatal disease in horses and humans in eastern Australia. Pteropid bats (flying-foxes) are the natural host of the virus. The mode of flying-fox to horse transmission remains unclear, but oro-nasal contact with flying-fox urine, faeces or saliva is the most plausible. We used GPS data logger technology to explore the landscape utilisation of black flying-foxes and horses to gain new insight into equine exposure risk. Flying-fox foraging was repetitious, with individuals returning night after night to the same location. There was a preference for fragmented arboreal landscape and non-native plant species, resulting in increased flying-fox activity around rural infrastructure. Our preliminary equine data logger study identified significant variation between diurnal and nocturnal grazing behaviour that, combined with the observed flying-fox foraging behaviour, could contribute to Hendra virus exposure risk. While we found no significant risk-exposing difference in individual horse movement behaviour in this study, the prospect warrants further investigation, as does the broader role of animal behaviour and landscape utilisation on the transmission dynamics of Hendra virus.