The of role community ecology in zoonotic disease outbreaks

Reduced richness of mammals in deforested landscapes in India's Western Ghats linked to risks of outbreaks of Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV)

GBIF-mediated data resources used : 2,826 species occurrences
Macaca radiata (É.Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1812) observed in Nalkeri Forest, Karnataka, India by Kiran J M (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Outbreaks of zoonotic viral diseases are becoming more prevalent as humans put more pressure on wildlife habitats—which makes the understanding of the influence of community ecology on the processes of pathogen circulation and spillover events ever more critical.

Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV) is an emerging tick-borne pathogen in the Western Ghats region of India, and in this study, researchers focused on testing the role of species richness and forest loss in shaping outbreaks. As a measure of species richness, the authors first modelled the combined distributions of 24 mammal species using GBIF-mediated occurrences along with variables of climate, forest cover and human footprint.

When juxtaposed with the distribution of KFDV outbreaks, the models uncovered significant and substantial associations between disease, species richness and forest loss. As such, increased mammalian richness was associated with increased KFDV outbreak occurrence, however, only in the context of minimal forest loss. As forest loss increased, the association was reversed, as lower species richness meant increased disease risk.

The study identified specific primates—the bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata), the black-footed gray langur (Semnopithecus hypoleucos) and the tufted gray langur (Semnopithecus priam)—whose relative abundance was associated with increased KFDV outbreaks. The authors suggested the incorporation of monitoring for these species into surveillance programmes as sentinels of KFDV circulation.

Overall, the study enforced previous findings indicating pathways from habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss to increased spillover. While unable to pinpoint specific mechanisms of viral maintenance and infection ecology, the results suggested that species resilient to landscape change might be most relevant to KFDV spillover events.

Walsh MG, Bhat R, Nagarajan-Radha V, Narayanan P, Vyas N, Sawleshwarkar S and Mukhopadhyay C (2021) Low mammalian species richness is associated with Kyasanur Forest disease outbreak risk in deforested landscapes in the Western Ghats, India. One Health. Elsevier BV 13: 100299. Available at:

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