Social and ecological drivers of pathogen transmission dynamics in East African great apes
Rushmore, Julie Lynn
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Infectious diseases have threatened the health of Africa's endangered great apes. Work on pathogen dynamics in humans demonstrates that pathogen transmission can increase with social and mating contacts, yet few studies have examined the role of host behavior in wildlife pathogen spread. Further, despite promiscuous mating behavior among African apes (i.e., chimpanzees, bonobos and to a lesser extent gorillas), little is known about the prevalence or impact of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on this primate group. To better understand the social and ecological drivers of pathogen transmission dynamics in wild apes, I used a combination of field, molecular, and mathematical modeling techniques to 1) assess how temporal contact heterogeneity affects pathogen dynamics and control, and 2) examine the diversity and prevalence of potential STDs. To address goal 1, I collected nine months of behavioral association data from a wild chimpanzee community in Kibale Forest, Uganda, and I used these data to build monthly chimpanzee contact networks. I then used a combination of network analysis and epidemiological modeling to simulate pathogen spread on networks for a range of pathogen types. To explore optimal pathogen control strategies, I identified risk groups of individuals most likely to initiate large outbreaks and compared model simulations of network-based vaccination strategies that targeted these risk groups. To address goal 2, I collected and screened samples from wild and sanctuary chimpanzees and gorillas for putative STDs, compared infection status against ecological factors, and used sequence analysis to better characterize positive samples. Overall, this work represents a multi-disciplinary approach to understand social and ecological factors affecting pathogen transmission in East African apes and provides crucial information for developing management strategies to protect endangered apes from current and future disease threats.