Dryland Salinity and the Ecology of Ross River Virus: The Ecological Underpinnings of the Potential for Transmission

S.S. Carver, Helen Spafford, Andrew Storey, P. Weinstein

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    23 Citations (Scopus)


    Alterations in transmission of vector-borne zoonoses are often linked to environmental change. However, ecological processes that determine variability in potential for transmission are generally not well understood. Ross River virus (RRV, Togoviridae: Alphavirus) is a mosquito-borne zoonosis in Australia with a significant human disease burden. The inland southwest (Wheatbelt) of Western Australia (WA) is substantially affected by an anthropogenic salinization of agricultural land (dryland salinity). Aedes camptorhynchus Thomson (Diptera: Culicidae) is the dominant vector of RRV in southwest WA and is halophilic. As such, dryland salinity may influence potential for RRV transmission by influencing interactions between Ae. camptorhynchus and mammalian hosts. We surveyed areas of the Wheatbelt with varying salinity impacts and found Ae. camptorhynchus was more abundant in saline areas, whereas sheep Ovis aries (Linnaeus 1758, Bovidae) declined with increasing salinity. We used a deterministic model to examine interactions between Ae. camptorhynchus and mammals, and we assessed potential for RRV transmission. We found variation in potential for RRV transmission was positively related to increasing salinity and abundance of Ae. camptorhynchus and negatively associated with increasing abundance of Macropus fuliginosus (Desmarest 1817, Macropodidae). Abundance of Ae. camptorhynchus determined more variation in potential for RRV transmission than other variables. Accordingly, dryland salinity increases the zoonotic potential for RRV transmission primarily by facilitating abundance of Ae. camptorhynchus. Human RRV notifications do not currently reflect the salinity-RRV transmission potential in the Wheatbelt but appear to be associated with RRV activity in the enzootic coastal zone. We speculate dryland salinity is a determinant of potential for RRV transmission but not activity. Dryland salinity is predicted to expand two- to four-fold by 2050. Preservation and restoration of freshwater ecosystems may ameliorate the potential for transmission of RRV and possibly incidence of human disease.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)611-622
    JournalVector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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