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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Using geospatial tools to investigate how deforestation affects the transmission of malaria in birds

PI: Anong Damian Nota (, University of Buea
U.S. Partner: Thomas Smith, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Dates: November 2015 - October 2018

Project Overview

4-360 Nota_bird
Photo courtesy of Dr. Nota

This project addresses an unsolved problem in the field of emerging diseases: What are the proximal effects of large-scale deforestation on the transmission of vector-borne infectious diseases? The principal investigator and his team will approach this problem by studying malaria in natural populations of rainforest birds threatened by rapid environmental degradation in Cameroon. It is well established that deforestation poses a major threat to biodiversity in tropical regions; however, its effects on the spread of pathogens are largely uncharacterized. The team has previously identified malaria parasites, both generalists and specialists, in African rainforest birds, and they have found that it is the generalists that have the potential to jump to naïve hosts and develop as emerging diseases. They have also identified mosquito vectors of avian malaria and demonstrated that patterns of malaria diversity are significantly affected by habitat. With their knowledge of sectors presently zoned for logging, they thus have in place an unprecedented model system for investigating the effects of environmental change on disease transmission. They will test the hypotheses that (1) deforestation promotes an increase in ther prevalence of generalist parasites and (2) vector species distributions change with deforestation, and account for differences in prevalence of generalist vs. specialist parasites. The ultimate goal of this research is to discern the interplay among hosts, habitat, and vector ecology on the potential spread of novel pathogen strains. Another important objective is to determine how human-altered environments affect the feeding patterns of insect vectors and what environmental factors are important in determining likelihood of transmission. By applying the same type of relations before and after logging, they researchers should be able to predict where the vectors are likely to occur, where disease is likely to occur, and the patterns may change.

This work will capitalize on the U.S. Government-supported partner’s expertise in molecular biology, parasitology, entomology, and fieldwork and leverages the archive of blood samples that the he and his collaborators have accrued over nearly 30 years from African rainforest birds. 

Summary of Recent Activities

During this quarter, the eighth field trip of the PEER project was set at camp 6 in the deforested areas of Talangaye forest of the Nguti Subdivision (South-west Region), and scheduled from October 22nd to November 12th 2017. This trip, the deforested phase of the project, comprised the onset of sampling in deforested areas transformed to mono-culture palms plantations.Their sampling plan for the last year the project is to collect samples of birds and mosquitoes recent deforested areas transformed into palm plantations so as build a comparative dataset with data collected in years 1 and 2 from forested habitats.

Two of the students travelled to the US for more training on mosquito systematics, PCR extraction and sequencing at the lab of the US collaborator, Dr Anton Cornel. They also visited the lab of
their US supported partner Dr Thomas B Smith and worked with co-PI Dr Kevin Njabo to prepare manuscripts for publication based on data already collected.

Dr. Nota expects field work to continue as they move into the third year to collect more blood samples from birds and to collect more mosquitoes from the established transects. The shift in collection of samples will move todeforested areas already being converted to palm plantations following the plans of SC-SOC.

In December 2017, the PI officially graduated 3 MSc students from the project. All their research activities were sponsored with PEER funds. All the three students were from the University of Buea, Department of Microbiology and the Department of Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology. Although they have graduated, all the students will continue working on the project and will continue on data collection of deforested areas that started in October 2017. They anticipate some will decide to pursue PhD projects in the future when additional funding may become available.

In the next 3-6 months, the PI and his team will gauge the effects of deforestation on the diversity and host-specificity of avian malaria parasites in Cameroon. Beginning January 2018, we will continue conducting fieldwork in deforested areas of palm oil
plantations. Importantly, they will monitor bird species and collect avian blood samples. Using molecular and analytical methodologies, they will continue examining the blood samples we obtained from the field to obtain data on the prevalence of generalist vs. specialist parasites. This will be done tri-monthly over the 3-year period of the grant. They will also initiate manuscript writing for each objective. 

The project team will measure the effects of deforestation on mosquito communities. During this same period, they will continue to sample mosquitoes using different trapping efforts, lard cans and Net traps and identify the mosquito species using molecular and morphological criteria. Mayi Paule Audrey will train other students with methods used in her recent training at UC Davis.

Lastly, they will identify habitat effects on vectors that transmit generalist malaria parasites. They will continue with the testing of mosquitoes using microscopy and molecular methods for malaria infections. Samples will be sent out for sequences and those sequenced will be cleaned

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