Research Papers

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Unintended Consequences of Conservation Actions: Managing Disease in Complex Ecosystems

Infectious diseases are increasingly recognised to be a major threat to biodiversity. Disease management tools such as control of animal movements and vaccination can be used to mitigate the impact and spread of diseases in targeted species. They can reduce the risk of epidemics and in turn the risks of population decline and extinction. However, all species are embedded in communities and interactions between species can be complex, hence increasing the chance of survival of one species can have repercussions on the whole community structure. In this study, we use an example from the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania to explore how a vaccination campaign against Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) targeted at conserving the African lion (Panthera leo), could affect the viability of a coexisting threatened species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Assuming that CDV plays a role in lion regulation, our results suggest that a vaccination programme, if successful, risks destabilising the simple two-species system considered, as simulations show that vaccination interventions could almost double the probability of extinction of an isolated cheetah population over the next 60 years. This work uses a simple example to illustrate how predictive modelling can be a useful tool in examining the consequence of vaccination interventions on non-target species. It also highlights the importance of carefully considering linkages between human-intervention, species viability and community structure when planning species-based conservation actions.

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Malignant Lymphoma in African Lions (Panthera Leo)

Malignant lymphoma has become an increasingly recognized problem in African lions (Panthera leo). Eleven African lions (9 male and 2 female) with clinical signs and gross and microscopic lesions of malignant lymphoma were evaluated in this study. All animals were older adults, ranging in age from 14 to 19 years. Immunohistochemically, 10 of the 11 lions had T-cell lymphomas (CD3+, CD79a–), and 1 lion was diagnosed with a B-cell lymphoma (CD3–, CD79a+). The spleen appeared to be the primary site of neoplastic growth in all T-cell lymphomas, with involvement of the liver (6/11) and regional lymph nodes (5/11) also commonly observed. The B-cell lymphoma affected the peripheral lymph nodes, liver, and spleen. According to the current veterinary and human World Health Organization classification of hematopoietic neoplasms, T-cell lymphoma subtypes included peripheral T-cell lymphoma (4/11), precursor (acute) T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma/leukemia (2/11), chronic T-cell lymphocytic lymphoma/leukemia (3/11), and T-zone lymphoma (1/11). The single B-cell lymphoma subtype was consistent with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) testing by immunohistochemistry on sections of malignant lymphoma was negative for all 11 lions. One lion was seropositive for FeLV. In contrast to domestic and exotic cats, in which B-cell lymphomas are more common than T-cell lymphomas, African lions in this study had malignant lymphomas that were primarily of T-cell origin. Neither FeLV nor FIV, important causes of malignant lymphoma in domestic cats, seems to be significant in the pathogenesis of malignant lymphoma in African lions.

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Disease transmission in territorial populations: the small-world network of Serengeti lions

Territoriality in animal populations creates spatial structure that is thought to naturally buffer disease invasion. Often, however, territorial populations also include highly mobile, non-residential individuals that potentially serve as disease superspreaders. Using long-term data from the Serengeti Lion Project, we characterize the contact network structure of a territorial wildlife population and address the epidemiological impact of nomadic individuals. As expected, pride contacts are dominated by interactions with neighbouring prides and interspersed by encounters with nomads as they wander throughout the ecosystem. Yet the pride–pride network also includes occasional long-range contacts between prides, making it surprisingly small world and vulnerable to epidemics, even without nomads. While nomads increase both the local and global connectivity of the network, their epidemiological impact is marginal, particularly for diseases with short infectious periods like canine distemper virus. Thus, territoriality in Serengeti lions may be less protective and non-residents less important for disease transmission than previously considered.

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