Title

Influence of ecological factors on the presence of a triatomine species associated with the arboreal habitat of a host of Trypanosoma cruzi

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-29-2018

Abstract

© 2018 The Author(s). Background: The white-naped squirrel, Simosciurus nebouxii (previously known as Sciurus stramineus), has recently been identified as an important natural host for Trypanosoma cruzi in Ecuador. The nests of this species have been reported as having high infestation rates with the triatomine vector Rhodnius ecuadoriensis. The present study aims to determine the levels of nest infestation with R. ecuadoriensis, the ecological variables that are influencing the nest site selection, and the relationship between R. ecuadoriensis infestation and trypanosome infection. Results: The study was carried out in transects in forest patches near two rural communities in southern Ecuador. We recorded ecological information of the trees that harbored squirrel nests and the trees within a 10 m radius. Manual examinations of each nest determined infestation with triatomines. We recorded 498 trees (n = 52 with nests and n = 446 without nests). Rhodnius ecuadoriensis was present in 59.5% of the nests and 60% presented infestation with nymphs (colonization). Moreover, we detected T. cruzi in 46% of the triatomines analyzed. Conclusions: We observed that tree height influences nest site selection, which is consistent with previous observations of squirrel species. Factors such as the diameter at breast height and the interaction between tree height and tree species were not sufficient to explain squirrel nest presence or absence. However, the nest occupancy and tree richness around the nest were significant predictors of the abundance of triatomines. Nevertheless, the variables of colonization and infection were not significant, and the data observed could be expected because of chance alone (under the null hypothesis). This study ratifies the hypothesis that the ecological features of the forest patches around rural communities in southern Ecuador favor the presence of nesting areas for S. nebouxii and an increase of the chances of having triatomines that maintain T. cruzi populations circulating in areas near human dwellings. Additionally, these results highlight the importance of including ecological studies to understand the dynamics of T. cruzi transmission due to the existence of similar ecological and land use features along the distribution of the dry forest of southern Ecuador and northern Peru, which implies similar challenges for Chagas disease control.

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