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Infectious Diseases and Extinction Risk in Wild Mammals

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Parasite-driven declines in wildlife have become increasingly common and can pose significant risks to natural populations. We used the IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species and compiled data on hosts threatened by infectious disease and their parasites to better understand the role of infectious disease in contemporary host extinctions. The majority of mammal species considered threatened by parasites were either carnivores or artiodactyls, two clades that include the majority of domesticated animals. Parasites affecting host threat status were predominantly viruses and bacteria that infect a wide range of host species, including domesticated animals. Counter to our predictions, parasites transmitted by close contact were more likely to cause extinction risk than those transmitted by other routes. Mammal species threatened by parasites were not better studied for infectious diseases than other threatened mammals and did not have more parasites or differ in four key traits demonstrated to affect parasite species richness in other comparative studies. Our findings underscore the need for better information concerning the distribution and impacts of infectious diseases in populations of endangered mammals. In addition, our results suggest that evolutionary similarity to domesticated animals may be a key factor associated with parasite-mediated declines; thus, efforts to limit contact between domesticated hosts and wildlife could reduce extinction risk.
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Keywords: IUCN Red List; Lista Roja de IUCN; animal domesticado; conservación de mamíferos; domesticated animal; mammal conservation; modo de transmisión; parasite; parásito; pathogen; patógeno; transmission mode; virus

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London, NW1 4RY, United Kingdom 2: Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, U.S.A., and Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom

Publication date: 01 October 2007

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