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Spatial variation in the parasite communities and genomic structure of urban rats in New York City.

Spatial variation in the parasite communities and genomic structure of urban rats in New York City.
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Angley LP, Combs M, Firth C, Frye MJ, Lipkin I, Richardson JL, Munshi-South J,


Angley LP, Combs M, Firth C, Frye MJ, Lipkin I, Richardson JL, Munshi-South J, (click to view)

Angley LP, Combs M, Firth C, Frye MJ, Lipkin I, Richardson JL, Munshi-South J,

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Zoonoses and public health 2017 11 16() doi 10.1111/zph.12418
Abstract

Brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) are a globally distributed pest. Urban habitats can support large infestations of rats, posing a potential risk to public health from the parasites and pathogens they carry. Despite the potential influence of rodent-borne zoonotic diseases on human health, it is unclear how urban habitats affect the structure and transmission dynamics of ectoparasite and microbial communities (all referred to as "parasites" hereafter) among rat colonies. In this study, we use ecological data on parasites and genomic sequencing of their rat hosts to examine associations between spatial proximity, genetic relatedness and the parasite communities associated with 133 rats at five sites in sections of New York City with persistent rat infestations. We build on previous work showing that rats in New York carry a wide variety of parasites and report that these communities differ significantly among sites, even across small geographical distances. Ectoparasite community similarity was positively associated with geographical proximity; however, there was no general association between distance and microbial communities of rats. Sites with greater overall parasite diversity also had rats with greater infection levels and parasite species richness. Parasite community similarity among sites was not linked to genetic relatedness of rats, suggesting that these communities are not associated with genetic similarity among host individuals or host dispersal among sites. Discriminant analysis identified site-specific associations of several parasite species, suggesting that the presence of some species within parasite communities may allow researchers to determine the sites of origin for newly sampled rats. The results of our study help clarify the roles that colony structure and geographical proximity play in determining the ecology of R. norvegicus as a significant urban reservoir of zoonotic diseases. Our study also highlights the spatial variation present in urban rat parasite communities, indicating that rats across New York City are not reservoirs for a homogenous set of parasites and pathogens. As a result, the epidemiological risks may be similarly heterogeneous for people in urban habitats.

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