Can habitat fragmentation lead to disease emergence: Metapopulation modeling of Hendra virus to explore hypotheses for emergence.
Plowright, Raina*,1, Foley, Patrick 2, Field, Hume3, Foley, Janet 4, 1 University of California, Davis, Davis, California2 California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, California3 Department of Primary Industries & Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia4 University of California, Davis, Davis, California
ABSTRACT- Hendra virus (HeV) is a newly discovered paramyxovirus endemic in Australian flying foxes (Pteropus, otherwise known as fruit bats). HeV emerged in Australia in 1994 with a spectacular outbreak killing 14 race horses and their trainer. It has since emerged from flying foxes into horses and sometimes humans four times, temporally clustered in 5 year intervals (1994, 1999 and 2004). Hendra virus is an old virus that has probably co-evolved with its flying fox host and causes no illness in experimentally or naturally infected flying foxes. Hence we ask the question, why would HeV emerge at this point in time? We use mathematical models and computer simulations to explore the hypothesis that metapopulation dynamics in the flying fox host could explain the temporal patterns in disease emergence and the seroprevalence patterns known in the four species of flying foxes. We also find that under some circumstances as the population becomes more fragmented that metapopulation dynamics may lead to more substantial outbreaks locally and therefore higher probability of spill-over to other species. As land clearing in Northern Australia is rapidly fragmenting flying fox habitat, this finding could demonstrate an important link between land use change and public health.
Key words: disease, Pteropus, metapopulations, fragmentation
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