, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 630–641 | Cite as

Environmental Factors and Zoonotic Pathogen Ecology in Urban Exploiter Species

  • Jamie L. RothenburgerEmail author
  • Chelsea H. Himsworth
  • Nicole M. Nemeth
  • David L. Pearl
  • Claire M. Jardine


Knowledge of pathogen ecology, including the impacts of environmental factors on pathogen and host dynamics, is essential for determining the risk that zoonotic pathogens pose to people. This review synthesizes the scientific literature on environmental factors that influence the ecology and epidemiology of zoonotic microparasites (bacteria, viruses and protozoa) in globally invasive urban exploiter wildlife species (i.e., rock doves [Columba livia domestica], European starlings [Sturnus vulgaris], house sparrows [Passer domesticus], Norway rats [Rattus norvegicus], black rats [R. rattus] and house mice [Mus musculus]). Pathogen ecology, including prevalence and pathogen characteristics, is influenced by geographical location, habitat, season and weather. The prevalence of zoonotic pathogens in mice and rats varies markedly over short geographical distances, but tends to be highest in ports, disadvantaged (e.g., low income) and residential areas. Future research should use epidemiological approaches, including random sampling and robust statistical analyses, to evaluate a range of biotic and abiotic environmental factors at spatial scales suitable for host home range sizes. Moving beyond descriptive studies to uncover the causal factors contributing to uneven pathogen distribution among wildlife hosts in urban environments may lead to targeted surveillance and intervention strategies. Application of this knowledge to urban maintenance and planning may reduce the potential impacts of urban wildlife-associated zoonotic diseases on people.


Columba livia domestica Disease ecology Mus Passer domesticus Rattus Zoonoses 



J. Rothenburger’s research is supported by the following: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral, Canadian Federation of University Women Dr. Margaret McWilliams Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire War Memorial Scholarship, Ontario Veterinary College Graduate Student Fellowship and the University of Guelph Dean’s Tri-Council Scholarship. The authors wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10393_2017_1258_MOESM1_ESM.docx (118 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 118 kb)


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Alliance 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jamie L. Rothenburger
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Chelsea H. Himsworth
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Nicole M. Nemeth
    • 1
    • 2
  • David L. Pearl
    • 6
  • Claire M. Jardine
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PathobiologyOntario Veterinary College, University of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Canadian Wildlife Health CooperativeOntario Veterinary College, University of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.School of Population and Public HealthUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Animal Health CentreBC Ministry of AgricultureAbbotsfordCanada
  5. 5.Canadian Wildlife Health CooperativeAbbotsfordCanada
  6. 6.Department of Population MedicineOntario Veterinary College, University of GuelphGuelphCanada

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