Landscape Utilisation, Animal Behaviour and Hendra Virus Risk
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.
KeywordsHendra virus Emerging disease Flying-fox Bat Horse Landscape Behaviour Risk
We thank colleagues at the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (QCEID) and the Boonah Biosecurity Queensland office (especially Mr. Perry Jones) for logistical and field assistance with the flying-fox component of the research. We also thank Biosecurity Queensland colleague David Mayer for biometrical advice and assistance. We particularly thank the owners of the Hendra virus equine case property for their desire to further the understanding of the nature of the flying-fox–horse interaction and their practical contribution despite their personal loss. The State of Queensland, through the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, provided funding and logistical support for the project. Additional support was provided the by the State of Queensland, the State of New South Wales and the Commonwealth of Australia under the National Hendra Virus Research Program. We also acknowledge the support of Dr. Martin Wikelski (The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Radolfzell, Germany and the University of Konstanz) and Dr. Franz Kuemmeth (e-obs GmbH, Gruenwald, Germany) for the GPS data loggers and related technical support.
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