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PLoS One. 2008 Aug 20;3(8):e2999. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002999.

Evidence of the importance of host habitat use in predicting the dilution effect of wild boar for deer exposure to Anaplasma spp.

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  • 1Department of Parasitology, Veterinary Faculty, Zaragoza, Spain. aestrada@unizar.es

Abstract

Foci of tick-borne pathogens occur at fine spatial scales, and depend upon a complex arrangement of factors involving climate, host abundance and landscape composition. It has been proposed that the presence of hosts that support tick feeding but not pathogen multiplication may dilute the transmission of the pathogen. However, models need to consider the spatial component to adequately explain how hosts, ticks and pathogens are distributed into the landscape. In this study, a novel, lattice-derived, behavior-based, spatially-explicit model was developed to test how changes in the assumed perception of different landscape elements affect the outcome of the connectivity between patches and therefore the dilution effect. The objective of this study was to explain changes in the exposure rate (ER) of red deer to Anaplasma spp. under different configurations of suitable habitat and landscape fragmentation in the presence of variable densities of the potentially diluting host, wild boar. The model showed that the increase in habitat fragmentation had a deep impact on Habitat Sharing Ratio (HSR), a parameter describing the amount of habitat shared by red deer and wild boar, weighted by the probability of the animals to remain together in the same patch (according to movement rules), the density of ticks and the density of animals at a given vegetation patch, and decreased the dilution effect of wild boar on deer Anaplasma ER. The model was validated with data collected on deer, wild boar and tick densities, climate, landscape composition, host vegetation preferences and deer seropositivity to Anaplasma spp. (as a measure of ER) in 10 study sites in Spain. However, although conditions were appropriate for a dilution effect, empirical results did not show a decrease in deer ER in sites with high wild boar densities. The model showed that the HSR was the most effective parameter to explain the absence of the dilution effect. These results suggest that host habitat usage may weaken the predicted dilution effect for tick-borne pathogens and emphasize the importance of the perceptual capabilities of different hosts in different landscapes and habitat fragmentation conditions for predictions of dilution effects.

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