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Host-Parasite Ecology and Systems Dynamics in Transitioning Ecosystems

Aims in a nutshell
  • develop robust parasite-specific molecular diagnostics to assess primate-parasite biodiversity

  • determine the extent to which parasites are shared across primate hosts and whether parasites can determine host community structure

  • assess spillover of gastrointestinal parasites between nonhuman primates and humans, including domestic animals

  • examine the relationship between habitat fragmentation and parasite biodiversity sensu environmental parasitology. 

Collaborating institutions
  • Danau Girang Field Centre

  • Sabah Wildlife Department

  • Universiti Malaysia Sabah

  • Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme (HUTAN)

Project Summary

The main purpose of this project is to investigate ecological networks involving parasites and Borneo's rich primate biodiversity in an area subjected to ongoing anthropogenic change. Unlike the case for Japanese macaques, which are isolated from other nonhuman primates and thus within-species effects dominate parasite transmission dynamics, primates in tropical areas typically share their habitats with multiple related species, allowing for potential between-species effects in parasitism and likely involving 'apparent competition'; i.e. competition between primate species for 'enemy-free space'. Our search for 'superspreaders' among specific host individuals in Japanese macaque and other primate groups here expands to a search for specific host species that may play disproportionate roles in the transmission dynamics of certain disease-causing or otherwise parasitic organisms. If host community assemblages can affect the transmission rates of generalist (shared) parasites, then the potential exists for other species to influence infection dynamics of focal species, such as primates and other wildlife of conservation concern, or humans, leading to indirect effects on their population viabilities. Throw in large-scale land conversion and the ever-shrinking habitats for wildlife everywhere, and we have a recipe for which the end-product has yet to be determined. Although challenging, it is actually critical to view parasitism from such a complex, community perspective. The ultimate aims here will be to carry this work into the one health paradigm, where environmental, wildlife and public health are treated as part of the same, dynamic system.

To accomplish our aims, we are using a diverse set of methods that include field work and sampling, traditional and molecular parasitology, social, ecological and spatial data analysis and modeling, as well as comparative literature surveys to gain a broader perspective. To date, our major focus has been on gastrointestinal parasites. Such environmentally-transmitted parasites have the potential to spread into new regions and new hosts as landscapes are altered, making them important target species to consider. In addition, they are perhaps more amenable to sampling than other parasitic organisms, particularly when working in sensitive areas with endangered host species.

Key Publications
  • Frias L, Hasegawa H, Chua TH, Sipangkui S, Stark D, Salgado-Lyn M, Goossens B, Keuk K, Okamoto M, MacIntosh AJJ (2021) Parasite community structure in sympatric Bornean primates. Int J Parasitol 51(11):925-933

  • Frias L, Stark DJ, Salgado Lynn M, Nathan S, Goossens B, Okamoto M, MacIntosh AJJ (2019) Molecular characterization of nodule worm in a community of Bornean primates. Ecology and Evolution 9:3937-3945

  • Frias L, MacIntosh AJJ (2019) Threatened Hosts, Threatened Parasites? Parasite Diversity and Distribution in Red-Listed Primates. In: A Behie et al. (eds) Primate Research and Conservation in the Anthropocene. Cambridge University Press

  • Frias L, Hasegawa H, Stark DJ, Salgado-Lynn M, Nathan KSS Senthilvel, Chua T, Goossens B, Okamoto M, MacIntosh AJJ (2018) A pinworm’s tale: the evolutionary history of Lemuricola (Protenterobius) nycticebi. Int J Parasitol: Parasites & Wildlife

  • Frias L, Stark DJ, Salgado Lynn M, Nathan SKSS, Goossens B, Okamoto M, MacIntosh AJJ (2018) Lurking in the dark: Cryptic Strongyloides in a Bornean slow loris. Int J Parasitol: Parasites & Wildlife

Funded by:

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