Changing animal behaviour in different terrain can impact spread of diseases: Study

Pathogens like novel tuberculosis could exploit forms of communication among banded mongooses to spread

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 13 March 2020
Different land types influenced the spread of a novel tuberculosis pathogen among banded mongooses Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Changing animal behaviour across different terrains can spur or rein in the spread of diseases, researchers said after studying banded mongoose in Botswana.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has turned the spotlight on zoonotic diseases and viral outbreaks — something the scientific community warned would increase. The examples of severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle-East respioratory syndrome have not been forgotten.

In that context, the study published on March 12, 2020 in journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution can contribute to the understanding of spread of diseases.

The researchers observed how different land types changed the behaviour of the mongoose and impacted the spread of a novel tuberculosis pathogen through them.

The pathogen “hijacked” their olfactory communication pathways — banded mongoose use scent marking to communicate information — said Kathleen Alexander, who led the research. 

She, along with former graduate student Carol Anne Nichols, placed radio collars and camera traps with remote sensors at mongoose dens. They then remotely observed the animals without influencing them across urban environments, protected park landscapes and other locations.

“What we found is that land type significantly influences the interaction of vigilance — watching out for predators or competitors — with scent marking behavior,” Alexander said.

Mongoose in Botswana’s Chobe National Park had to be vigilant against predators and were less likely to leave their scents or communicate with other mongoose, said Nichols.

“If you’re running from a predator, you’re not stopping to leave a message for other animals. You’re running for your life,” she added.

Pathogens like novel tuberculosis could exploit this form of communication among banded mongooses to spread, according to the study.

Banded mongooses are social animals and live in different territories.  Pathogens can therefore spread when individual mongoose cross their territorial boundaries and smell other scent marks, according to the study.

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