Ecological Factors of Rodent Assemblage Structure Affecting Hantavirus Prevalence at Varying Spatial Scales
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Zoonotic pathogens are the dominant cause of novel and reemerging infectious diseases. Hantaviruses (family Bunyaviridae) and their associated human diseases occur globally and differ according to their geographic distribution and type of illness exhibited in humans. Prevention of these diseases requires surveillance of seroprevalence in animal populations. Small mammal assemblage structure and species richness are suggested as strong drivers for the maintenance and spread of hantavirus infections. Climatic factors, such as precipitation, can influence reservoir density and abundance by increasing available food resources. These fluctuations in rodent assemblage structure can contribute to the maintenance or reduction of hantavirus seroprevalence. My research objectives were to: 1) determine the ecological correlates of hantavirus prevalence in small mammal assemblages at the site, region, continent, and global levels; 2) to compare differences in prevalence found in sylvan and disturbed habitats; 3) investigate the relationship between phylogenetic diversity and prevalence; 4) develop predictive models for hantavirus prevalence in rodent assemblages using defined ecological correlates; and 5) to quantify transmission events and seroconversions between naïve and infected rodents. I found that of the currently recognized 681 Cricetid, 730 Murid, 61 Nesomyid, and 278 Sciurid species, approximately than 11.3%, 2.1%, 1.6%, and 1.1% respectively, have known associations with hantaviruses. The diversity of hantaviruses hosted by rodents and their distribution among host species supports a reassessment of the paradigm that each virus is associated with a single host species. By considering reservoir host diversity and distribution patterns I holistically evaluate the symbiotic and pathogen-host associations between rodents and hantaviruses. I examine this association on a global taxonomic and geographical scale, model these associations, compare habitats (i.e. sylvan vs. peridomestic) across a latitudinal gradient from Texas through México with emphasis placed on the rodent host diversity and distribution, and quantify infection seroconversion rates of naïve, wild rodents from interactions with naturally infected conspecifics.