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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 (damian.anong@ubuea.cm), University of Buea
U.S. Partner: Thomas Smith, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Dates: November 2015 - October 2019

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

Despite the unrest in Buea, in this reporting period, the project has continued with data analysis, writing and correcting of manuscripts. Meetings in the laboratory of the PI reduced as many students especially those from the University of Dschang and HIES, Yaounde who had taken residence in Buea to use the facilities of the laboratory have gone back to their respective universities and only travel to Buea when it is absolutely necessary. A such they have resorted to using more of the internet to communicate and exchange ideas so as to reduce movements and exposure to risks.

In addition to the first manuscript on ‘New Species of Culex (Culiciomyia) (Dipteria: Culicidae) from Talangaye forest in Cameroon and notes on Afrotropical mosquitoes belonging to the subgenus Culiciomia’ that was submitted to the journal ZOOTAXAand undergoing more corrections, two other manuscripts have been submitted for review.
1.‘Effects of Deforestation on Avian Parasitic Co-infections in Recaptured Birds from an African Tropical Rainforest’ submitted to the Journal of Parasitological Research
2.‘The effects of land use change on mosquito abundance and prevalence of avian haemosporidian parasites in a tropical rainforest of Cameroon’ submitted to the International Journal of Parasitology.

The project will be ending in September and so their focus presently is to round up the project with articles for publication and evaluation of the achievements of the project so far. Ravinder sehgal, one of their US based collaborators will be travelling to Cameroon on the 1st of August for 10 days to help out with some of the difficulties that their students have been facing with writing of some of their manuscripts and to wrap up the project with perspectives . He will not be going to Buea so together with co-PIs they shall be meeting in Douala with the students for discussions especially since they still have students working in the lab and are still to defend their PhDs after the project is over.


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