Watering points draw together an enormous range of wildlife and domestic animals, forming a direct interface for disease transmission. Understanding the degree to which water aggregates animals and their parasites across seasons and climate gradients is particularly important in light of current climate change and water instability, particularly in the East African tropical savanna. This region is home to some of the world's most charismatic wildlife species, but it is also a disease hotspot that is currently undergoing continued development and expanded ranching and cattle practices in wildlife zones. This project will seek to quantify the effect of watering points on parasite density, as mediated by animal movement, and to understand how climate and host community play a role in disease risk at water points across the landscape. The project entails four distinct components that integrate extensive observational surveys, experimental manipulations, and mathematical modelling. The first component involves a survey of 20 dams and control sites across a steep rainfall gradient in Laikipia County, central Kenya. Dung surveys, tick drags, camera trapping, vegetation surveys, and soil and water analyses will be used to determine the density of animals and their parasites at both watering holes and control sites over rainfall seasons. The second component will utilize paired water pans used by wildlife and cattle: one water pan in each pair will be drained for two rainfall seasons before being refilled, and all surveys listed above will be repeated for this experiment. The third component will utilize animal exclosure plots at water sources to determine the effect of large mammal loss on parasite density in the landscape. Finally, mathematical models parameterized with field data will be used to simulate the transmission of fecal-oral parasites over different climates and seasons for a range of hosts. The effect of water availability and distribution on animal movement and disease prevalence will be tested, providing valuable insight to both land managers and scientists on the complex system of water, hosts, and parasites.
Division Of Environmental Biology