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[Animals] Do wild animals and livestock share parasites?


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In the future, the technique of holistic coding of parasite DNA samples is expected to be an important tool for parasitologists and pathoecologists as they study infections.




Do animals share parasites? A simple question with many implications for food webs, rare species and even environmental change. However, answering this question is difficult, especially when it comes to research on endangered species.

It is critical to understand disease transmission in a world of increasing contact between human and animal hosts.

An international study led by a researcher from the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers a promising solution to answering this question by detecting DNA isolated from the dung of large herbivores. This study discovered that there is a whole network of gastrointestinal parasites that circulate among 17 species of wild and domestic herbivores.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, sheds light on patterns of parasite diversity in both wild and livestock animals.

The researchers found that gastrointestinal parasites tended to infect hosts in similar species, and they also found that domestic animals play a major role in this network.




Find a better way
Georgia Titcomb, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, while working on her thesis wanted to understand how large animals, wild and domestic, can share parasites while congregating around water sources, but Titcomb has become increasingly frustrated with traditional methods of manually identifying parasites. Parasite eggs and count.

"I was examining the microscope and seeing the eggs were exactly the same," Titcomb says - in a press release posted on the university's website on June 6. "There was no way to know if the microscopic oval shape I found in cow dung could infect antelope."

In search of a better method, Titcomb, the study's principal investigator, reached out to co-author Rob Pringle of Princeton University, who used what's known as DNA metabarcoding in the dung of herbivores to figure out their diets. , with the aim of discovering the presence and diversity of parasites in 17 species of large herbivores located at the Mbala Research Center in central Kenya.

Animals with hindguts, such as zebras, have a different set of parasites (French)
The evolutionary history of the host
The researchers tested several variables, such as host body size, diet, and social group size, and found some key patterns.



The most important factor, Titcomb explained, is the evolutionary history of the host, noting that the structure of the host's gut — the parasite's home — can determine the community of parasites there.

The researchers suspected that the multi-chambered stomach might provide too much habitat complexity for the gut parasites.

As a result, these herbivores that digest plant matter in their foreguts—such as cows, antelopes, buffaloes, and giraffes—may contain a different set of parasites than hindgut fermenters—such as zebras, asses, elephants, and pigs—which have long colons where they absorb most nutrients.

Also, animals with similar gut types tend to have similar evolutionary histories, and so may share many other factors that affect parasites, such as immunity, so it is very difficult to separate the role of gut type from the host relationship.

The role of livestock
As a report published on Phys points out, the researchers found genetically similar parasites in very different groups of animals - such as pigs, zebras and elephants - so they suspect that the type of gut is responsible for this difference.

Can the microscopic oval shape of parasite eggs found in cow dung infect antelopes? (Shutterstock)

Accounting for the important role that livestock plays in these networks is crucial for planning ahead. "All over the world, large mammals are declining and increasingly displaced by livestock parasites," Pringle says.

"These animals' parasites have important impacts on their health and fitness, which poses a potential problem for their conservation and human livelihoods, inasmuch as wildlife can transmit diseases to livestock," he added.

The researchers believe that their findings will be important for livestock management. Pringle stresses that a proper understanding of the factors that influence parasite networks is critical to designing effective protection plans and predicting and managing disease outbreaks.

For example, the team found that 90 percent of the camels were infected with at least one type of parasitic nematode, and that it was one of the most important species in the parasite-sharing network.

The researchers also point out that the method used is not perfect, at a time when Titcomb noted that these results are still in the early stages, and that there is a lot of work to be done.

In the future, Titcomb expects the technique to holistically encode parasite DNA samples to be an important tool for parasitologists and disease ecologists as they study infections.




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