Persistent anthrax as a major driver of wildlife mortality in a tropical rainforest

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Abstract

An anthrax-causing agent, Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis, is a persistent and widespread cause of death for a broad range of mammalian hosts in a tropical rainforest, with important implications for the conservation of mammals such as chimpanzees.

Anthrax is a globally important animal disease and zoonosis. Despite this, our current knowledge of anthrax ecology is largely limited to arid ecosystems, where outbreaks are most commonly reported1,2,3. Here we show that the dynamics of an anthrax-causing agent, Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis, in a tropical rainforest have severe consequences for local wildlife communities. Using data and samples collected over three decades, we show that rainforest anthrax is a persistent and widespread cause of death for a broad range of mammalian hosts. We predict that this pathogen will accelerate the decline and possibly result in the extirpation of local chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) populations. We present the epidemiology of a cryptic pathogen and show that its presence has important implications for conservation.

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