Effects of
Habitat Perturbation on Rodent Population Dynamics and Risk of Rodent-borne Disease

About the Project

The global population explosion and need for natural resources is resulting in widespread human intrusion into previously uninhabited environments. This perturbation affects biodiversity, changing communities via both species loss and entry of new, more disturbance- tolerant species. Change in the biotic community can also result in change in the microbial community, with the potential for shifting patterns of transmission of zoonotic pathogens to humans. This study seeks to understand how anthropogenic habitat perturbations may impact rodent populations and the associated risk of rodent-borne diseases. The project studies the ecology and societal vulnerability to rodent-borne diseases as a consequence of global change and habitat perturbation. The development and implementation of this project involves a multidisciplinary approach, comprising a network of investigators and institutions from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the United States.

In Peru, the project is to study the habitat perturbation as a result of the recent building of the trans-oceanic highway through the Peruvian Amazon, with consequent human settlement and conversion to pasture and cropland. We are also conducting a cross-sectional analysis of similarly perturbed habitats related to the construction of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos Highway through the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia; and in similar conditions at the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. Additionally, through both quantitative and qualitative human behavioral studies, we are developing a new assessment tool that measures specific societal impacts and vulnerabilities related to habitat change and health as prioritized by the community itself.

The result of this project will be a novel view of small mammal ecology and the potential for pathogen transmission in ecosystems facing dramatic changes in land use. In addition to the scientific knowledge to be gained, the training and capacity building components of the project will provide a multidisciplinary cadre of well-trained and equipped scientists for the study of the ecology of biodiversity and zoonotic diseases in South America.