Important Factors In Lemur Disease Ecology

The time of arrival of domestic animals in Madagascar has been inferred through the fossil dung spore, Sporomiella (Burney et al., 2003), and suggests that domestic animals arrived early after humans began inhabiting the island about 2000 years ago. Such human encroachment has had a dramatic effect on Madagascar's endemic flora and fauna. Today, a rapidly increasing human population is forcing primates and humans into more direct contact. In particular, transmission of diseases between wild lemurs, domestic animals, and humans is possible, but the actual patterns remain unknown. Such relationships are not static, as changing ecological conditions can increase the risk of disease transmission in animal populations (Deem et al., 2002). For instance, habitat degradation can increase crowding so that the potential for transmission of infectious disease increases. Such habitat degradation can also compromise the nutritional status of a population, increase stress, and adversely affect other factors that are important in immunity to disease. These are all factors that can increase a species' susceptibility to infectious diseases (Woodroffe, 1999; Daszak et al., 2000; Lafferty and Gerber, 2002).

Over the past 60 million years, extant lemurs have evolved only in Madagascar, in the absence of many disease pathogens found on continents. Because humans and their commensals have only recently inhabited the island, lemurs may be especially susceptible to pathogen pollution from human-introduced species such as rats, domestic animals, and the human populations themselves. Indeed, as one of the most ubiquitous mammalian groups on the island of Madagascar, lemurs may have an exceptionally high exposure. As humans and their domestic and pest species (e.g., the common rat) are brought into increasing contact with lemurs, the potential for a "virgin ground epidemic" increases, e.g., an explosive spread of novel pathogens among immunologically naive wildlife populations (Dobson and Foufopoulos, 2001). A number of potential disease risks from anthropogenic effects are known. Rodent - reservoir diseases introduced into Madagascar include plague (Yersinia pestis), murine typhus, schistosomiasis, Angiostrongylus, and salmonellosis. Other introduced diseases include rabies (domestic dog reservoir), Rift Valley Fever, and borreliosis (Duplantier and Duchemin, 2003). Both Yersinia (species enterocolitica) and Salmonella spp. have been documented in captive lemurs, but not wild lemurs. However, the possibility of these diseases affecting lemurs exists.

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