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Mammalian biogeography and the Ebola virus in Africa

Olivero, J and Fa, JE and Real, R and Farfán, MA and Márquez, AL and Vargas, JM and Gonzalez, JP and Cunningham, AA and Nasi, R (2016) Mammalian biogeography and the Ebola virus in Africa. In: One Health for the Real World: zoonoses, ecosystems and wellbeing.

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Abstract

Ebola virus is responsible for the fatal Ebola-virus disease (EVD). Links between EVD outbreaks in Africa and 3 chiropteran species, presumed to be reservoirs for the Ebola virus, have been suggested, but discussions are still on-going. There is also evidence of significant virus spillover among mammal species not suspected to be natural hosts (e.g. chimpanzees, gorillas and duikers). We mapped the potential distribution of the Ebola virus in Africa based on both environmental and zoogeographic descriptors. We employed distribution modelling using the Favourability Function, alongside a complement of biogeographic approaches including chorotype analysis. We obtained a significantly well-calibrated model defining the distribution of environmentally favourable areas for the presence of Ebola virus, which was outperformed by a model determining favourable areas according to mammalian biogeography. Finally, we built a model in which the combined landscape and mammalian distribution types better explained the distribution of Ebola virus independent of human-to-human transmissions. Our findings show that the core area for the virus is associated with infections of known animal origin, but surrounded by areas where human infections of unknown source were found. This difference in the association between human and animals and the virus may offer further insights to better understand how EVD can spread, as well as providing the basis for an early warning system based on where human contact with multiple animal species may occur. We propose a biogeographically-justified list of at least 64 mammal species whose link with Ebola virus is worth investigating.

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