EPIDEMIOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF RODENT COMMUNITY COMPOSITION IN FRAGMENTED LANDSCAPES IN PANAMA

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Abstract

We predicted that more-fragmented habitats are associated with lower diversity of small mammals and higher densities of populations of rodents that are hosts of hantaviruses. We compared diversity and distribution of small mammals that are either hosts or nonhosts of hantaviruses in 6 Panamanian national parks and adjacent areas with varying degree of human impacts. We sampled forest, edge, and anthropogenically disturbed habitats. The generalist rodents Oligoryzomys fulvescens (reservoir of Choclo virus) and Zygodontomys brevicauda (reservoir of Calabazo virus) were more abundant in disturbed habitats, especially in smaller and more isolated patches, where population density and diversity of other rodent species was lowest. In contrast, these 2 species had lower abundances in larger forested areas with more nonreservoir species of small mammals. Our results suggest that the change in the natural environment resulting from tropical deforestation is increasing the abundance and distribution of species that are reservoirs for hantaviruses. Therefore, it is likely that forest fragmentation has contributed to recent outbreaks of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in tropical areas. Conservation of natural resources becomes all the more imperative, not only for protecting fauna and flora but also for human health.

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