Research team

Evolutionary ecology group (EVECO)

Expertise

- Morfological and molecular identification of small mammals (particularly rodents), molluscs and insects. - Consultancy on the management of rodent-related problems in agriculture and public health, with a particular expertise in Africa.

Community ecology of Tanzanian bats and cross-species transmission of their viruses. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

Most research on the eco-epidemiology of bat-borne viruses is conducted on "one host–one virus" systems. Here, we propose to characterize patterns in the structure of the bat virome at the community level to go beyond the one host-one pathogen paradigm. This project aims to investigate the exchange of viruses between different species and families of bats, and livestock in East Africa by analyzing the structure and dynamic of viral communities in Tanzanian bat communities using a comparative metagenomic approach. We aim at examining the role of host community composition, roost type, and phylogeny in shaping viral diversity as well as identifying patterns in the structure of bat virome. We will also investigate the role of seasonal bat reproduction as a driver of viral community structure and further assess whether certain bat species and/or periods may be at higher risk for pathogen transmission. Besides, the exploration of potential silent circulation of bat-borne viruses in livestock will help to assess if spillovers of bat-borne viruses to other hosts are stochastic events or if the frequency of these events is underestimated. Together, these results will provide important elements for understanding patterns of viral diversity in bat communities and are expected to alter the general view of bat-borne disease ecology.

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Research team(s)

Evolution and ecology of zoonotic wildlife pathogens. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

In this network we bring together scientists studying various aspects of the evolution and ecology of viruses occurring in (African) wildlife. Among these wildlife-viruses are zoonoses: infections that naturally circulate in non-human animals and occasionally infect humans. Some of these zoonotic infections do not efficiently transmit among people, so that their appearance and that of their associated disease in humans relies mostly on the presence and repeated contact between the natural animal hosts and people and the human pathological response. These types of infections are typically studied by ecologists, immunologists and pathologists. Other zoonotic infections may not reach humans very often, when for example they naturally occur in more elusive animals. In most instances these zoonotic infections reach a dead end in humans, but some may spread efficiently among people as soon as they emerge in humans, such as the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Such pathogens are either already by chance 'pre-adapted' to the human host, or can quickly evolve the necessary properties to efficiently infect and spread among humans. Epidemiologists and evolutionary biologists then typically study these latter types of infections. To prepare public health actions to rapidly respond to each of these different types of zoonotic viruses, a better understanding of how these viruses behave in natural settings before reaching humans is required. The key to this understanding lies in the patterns of their evolutionary histories, natural transmission ecology and the variation in response elicited by various hosts. Furthermore, many infections cannot be strictly categorized in either of the two types mentioned above, but reach and cause disease in humans as the result of a complex interplay between natural-host ecology, pathogen adaptive evolution, epidemiology, and the immunological and pathological response in humans. Research on those kinds of infections could thus strongly benefit from a synergy between different disciplines: animal fieldwork, molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics, ecological and epidemiological modeling, computational phylogenetics and immunology. Flanders contains world-class research groups studying these aspects of zoonotic and other wildlife viruses, and we wish to ensure the continuation of this knowledge capacity and further build to expand it. To achieve this, we need to exchange research ideas, expertise-specific scientific insights, animal samples, and skill- and toolsets for field, laboratory and analytical work; and we need to train our early-career researchers with the necessary sets of state-of-the art skills. We aim to formalize a Scientific Research Network on the ecology and evolution of wildlife and zoonotic viruses between research groups with complimentary expertise but overlapping research interests. The objective of this network is to stimulate interaction between complementary Flemish research groups and mutually benefit from existing international networks. The ultimate goal is to maintain and further increase the quality of the research in Flanders and develop partnerships for joint interdisciplinary projects and generally stimulate network-building for early-career researchers in infectious disease ecology and evolution. We will realise this networking through the organization of annual summer workshops. These advanced-level workshops will primarily be targeted at early-career postdoc researchers from the partner groups, offering exposure to different research angles to understand similar ultimate questions in zoonotic infection evolutionary ecology. Further inspiration will be provided by senior network partners and additional invited top international scientists. The workshops will also offer hands-on opportunities to learn different skills and toolsets. These can then be further elaborated through exchange visits to the international partners for training in state-of-the-art analysis techniques.

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Research team(s)

Who infects whom? Disentangling multi-host transmission of pathogens in rodent populations. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Although most emerging infectious diseases are caused by animalborne pathogens that originate from wildlife, the ecological mechanisms that explain how these pathogens spread and persist in the natural environment remain unclear. This research gap arises from the practical challenges of gathering convincing field data due to the stochastic nature of epidemics and the fact that these are longterm, population-level processes. In this project, I propose to investigate how differences in rodent communities influence the prevalence, persistence and control of pathogens that infect multiplehost species. These mechanisms lie at the root of an ongoing debate in conservation biology: whether biodiversity loss will lead to an increase or decrease of infectious disease that might spillover from animals to humans. The work will be based on the analysis of a unique collection of rodent samples that were captured during earlier fieldwork performed in the DRC and Tanzania and will be tested on the presence of different pathogens. By combining this data collection with additional field experiments and mathematical models, my project will test three main hypotheses: (i) pathogens tend to infect multiple host species, (ii) pathogen persistence is often driven by a key host species, and (iii) targeting this key host species suffices for pathogen control.

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Research team(s)

Rethinking aversion conditioning to reduce conflicts of interest between pastoralism and wolf conservation. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2022

Abstract

Grey wolves (Canis lupus) have recently recolonized large parts of western Europe, where they had been extinct for over a century. Although this is considered a conservation success, it has also led to livestock depredation as an unwanted side-effect. Presently, there are no methods to sustainably reduce depredation in vast pastoral areas where livestock fencing is not feasible or ecologically desirable, which threatens the coexistence of wolves and pastoralism. Here I propose to test the effectiveness of aversion conditioning in wild wolves to prevent sheep depredation. Using those principles, I intend to test and develop new methods that can be used in various pastoral regions across Europe and that can condition free ranging wolves to (i) avoid cues that could be equipped on sheep and (ii) to avoid sheep prey because of condition food aversion and/or (iii) to avoid sheep wearing an aversive cover. Autonomous conditioning traps will be dispatched around pastures and inside wolf pack territories and monitored by camera traps. Those conditioning traps should allow wolf self-delivery punishment and would provide self-conditioning experience. If efficient, such measures could help preventing depredation where current methods either conflict with habitat connectivity, fail, or need support.

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Research team(s)

Mastomys natalensis hybrid zones as natural laboratories to investigate the limits of arenavirus spread. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

The Natal multimammate mouse is probably the most widespread African rodent. In West-Africa it carries Lassa virus, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause lethal haemorrhagic fever; in other regions of Africa it carries closely related arenaviruses, but these are not pathogenic to humans. These viruses seem to be restricted to certain geographic regions because they are specific to genetically different subgroups of this mouse species. In Tanzania, three of these subgroups carrying three different non-pathogenic viruses come into contact. It is therefore an ideal place to investigate what happens to these subgroups when they meet and how this affects their arenaviruses. More specifically, I will describe the divergence of the host subgroups, characterise the hybrid zones where the subgroups come into contact, assess the association of different arenaviruses with their host subgroups and study arenavirus evolution and viral load in the hybrid zones. This research will yield insights into speciation processes and help to understand the geographic distribution and evolution of arenaviruses, which is crucial to predict future emergences and to plan interventions.

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Research team(s)

Uncovering the origin of recent and future zoonotic epidemics in tropical Africa (OMEGA). 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2030

Abstract

OMEgA studies emerging zoonotic diseases in Afrotropical mammals by investigating the ecology of the infections and the evolutionary aspects of the diversity of the pathogens and their associated natural hosts. Our two main objectives are to (i) unravel how the phylogeography, evolutionary history and ecology of hosts can provide insights about the diversity, origin and distribution of these zoonotic pathogens; (ii) discern which ecological mechanisms and environmental changes (climate, landscape, biodiversity loss, …) may facilitate host switching of pathogens or maintain host specificity, even in the absence of a strong molecular barrier. To address these questions, we will use Next-generation sequencing (NGS) methods to screen specimens and tissues from museum collections as well as freshly collected material for the presence of pathogens, to verify the hosts' taxonomy, the phylogenetic and ecological relationships among host species, and the distribution ranges of genetically discrete host populations. The resulting information on the hosts' taxonomy, biology, the transmission ecology of reliably identified pathogens inferred from their presence, diversity, host specificity and evolution will allow us to answer the profiles' main objectives. These findings will not only increase our fundamental knowledge on parasites/pathogen diversity, but also address important One Health aspects as they will shed new light on the conditions that result in zoonotic pathogens switching hosts from wildlife humans. Crucially, our results will contribute towards a better understanding of the relative contributions of anthropogenic global changes (climate change, erosion of tropical forests, changing landscape and human activity patterns) to the emergence of novel zoonotic pathogens, some of which pose potential global health risks.

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Research team(s)

BIODIV-AFREID: Biodiversity changes in African forests and Emerging Infectious Diseases: should we worry? 01/03/2020 - 28/02/2023

Abstract

This project will investigate how biodiversity conditions (dis)favour spill-over of infectious agents into human populations in African forests. This is crucial for predicting and controlling the risk of new outbreaks under changing biodiversity scenarios. In order to investigate this process, we propose 1° to link changes in biodiversity to changes in communities of reservoirs and the pathogens they carry and 2° to link differences in these reservoir communities to human health. The proposed research activities will focus on Monkeypox and Ebola viruses but a broader spectrum of pathogens will be included so that we can cover a range from pathogens that are relatively common in a variety of small mammals (MPXV) to pathogens that are rare and found in very few species only (EBV). The proposed study will be conducted in DR Congo and Côte d'Ivoire, in areas where these emerging diseases have been observed before and make optimal use of the large sample collections that have been collected earlier in these areas by the consortium partners.

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Research team(s)

BioRodDis: Managing biodiversity in forests and urban green spaces. Dilution and amplification effects of rodent microbiome and rodent-borne diseases. 01/02/2020 - 31/01/2023

Abstract

Our project aims at elucidating the interlinkages between biodiversity and diseases at local and European scales using standardized assessments of biodiversity and disease risks. This project will address this issue by integrating new key research directions, i.e. host microbiome and multiple pathogen diversity levels on one hand, seasonal and multi-annual dynamics on the other hand, including climate change scenarios, and interactions with socioeconomic contexts. These scientific questions are an essential prerequisite to improve existing modelling of the relationship between biodiversity and diseases, and to develop a framework, which enables to provide predictions with regard to the human and animal health impacts of ecosystem management practices, biological conservation strategies and/or climate changes on human and animal health. As such, these questions must and will be addressed in collaboration with main local and European stakeholders and policy makers. Our results will be disseminated to a larger audience, through a wide array of communication channels, and considering appropriate language and national/socio-professional specificities of the different members of the public targeted.

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Research team(s)

Co-infections, heterogeneity and behaviour: models and real rodents. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Most epidemiological models for infections target a single pathogen, but in reality hosts are commonly infected by more than one pathogen. Moreover, many models assume random or even homogeneous mixing of individuals within defined categories and do not account for heterogeneity of host characteristics or behavioural changes as a consequence of infection. In this project, we will address these questions with an African rodent population as a model system. Using a vast set of existing capture-mark recapture data of multimammate mice Mastomys natalensis in Tanzania, with over 9,000 blood samples collected during monthly captures since 2007 and still ongoing, we will be able to investigate co-infections with several pathogens, describe positive and negative associations between these pathogens and carry out a longitudinal study on the dynamics of the transmission of these pathogens. Using experiments both in the lab and in large field enclosure (0.5 ha) we will collect data about the mutual interactions of the pathogens at the transmission level, and the effects of (co-)infections on contact rates and behavior (and vice versa), taking heterogeneity into account. These data and insights will be the basis for the development of mathematical models that take these issues into account.

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Research team(s)

Vaccine & Infectious Diseases Excellence in Antwerp: Infectious disease prevention, control and management in a One Health policy context (VAX-IDEA). 03/07/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Infectious diseases (ID) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) pose a continuous and serious threat to humans and animals (One Health). Five research units from the UAntwerpen, with strong international records and collaboration, will continue to jointly capitalize on their ID expertise. EVECO studies distribution, evolution and ecology of pathogens (plague, arenaviruses, …) and wildlife hosts, offering insights for emerging ID management. LMM has established large consortia (COMBACTE, PREPARE) leading to pan-European infrastructures for ID and antimicrobial consumption research. Next to developing rapid diagnostics, LMM investigates AMR mechanisms and pathogen dynamics in vitro, in humans/livestock, and in animal models to study host-immune response (biomarker discovery) and bacterial pathogenicity. LEH performs cutting-edge research on cell-based immunotherapies, in collaboration with the UZA Center for Cell Therapy & Regenerative Medicine. LEH investigates host-immune responses in vaccine trials using multi-parametric flow cytometry and systems biology to discover novel immune correlates of protection in next-generation vaccines. CEV studies the epidemiology of vaccine-preventable diseases and performs state-of-the-art vaccine trials with large national/international networks, including maternal immunization trials and quarantine studies with genetically-modified polioviruses. Given the global need for EID vaccines (Lassa, Ebola, …) , CEV engages in several innovative (non)-human challenge-phase 1-2 studies. CHERMID undertakes methodological and applied research on the intersection between health economics, biomedicine and mathematics. CHERMID is internationally renowned for developing models of dynamic ID processes within and between hosts and integrating these with cutting edge economic models. By integrating these complementary expertises, this COE will address current and future challenges in ID management.

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Research team(s)

Zoonosis and pest ecology research for sustainable livelihood at the human-wildlife interface in Omo Basin, Southern Ethiopia. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

The livelihood activities of rural communities in Ethiopia are performed at the expense of biodiversity in areas with a high degree of contacts between humans and the wildlife. This project is aimed at improving academic and research capacity at Wolaita Sodo University (WSU) focusing on ecological interactions at the human-wildlife interface and generating better knowledge of human-wildlife conflict to elucidate possible mitigation measures. The intermediate results (outputs) anticipated from the project include, description of the human-wildlife conflict and its economic impact, investigation of zoonosis epidemiology with emphasis on leishmania-sis, investigation of wetland to dryland shifts and its effects on small mammal populations and conflicts. The spatial and temporal data on human-wildlife conflicts will be collected. The results will be translated into policy briefs and disseminated to local communities, stakeholders and policy makers for actions. Improved human wellbeing (protected environment, enhanced crop productivity and better health) would be the key impacts envisaged by the project.

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Research team(s)

IoSA (Internet of Small Animals): Miniaturised contact loggers for small animals. 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2021

Abstract

In order to understand biological processes such as migration, dispersal and disease transmission, we need to know where animals are moving and who they are meeting. While this has been achieved for a lot of larger animals, the vast majority of animals are too small to effectively monitor without compromising on data accuracy or acquisition rates. This has implications not only for research into animal movement and behaviour, but also for applied applications such as better welfare for captive animals and livestock, and environmental monitoring. The recent advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) which has revolutionized various aspects of daily life have enormous potential in the field of wildlife tracking, but as yet have been little exploited, particularly when considering miniaturized options. We developed ProxLogs, an integrated, flexible and accessible monitoring system for small animals, based around recent improvements to Bluetooth Low Energy protocols. This project aims to develop the Minimum Viable Product, test it in operational environments, and investigate the appropriate business model of the system. This will be a state-of-the-art system which will allow the monitoring of far smaller wild and domestic animals at a greatly improved spatiotemporal scale than has previously been achieved, all while ensuring the system remains low cost and accessible for end users through our use of the widely available Bluetooth protocols. In this project we will further validate the prototype and investigate different potential business models.

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Project website

Avoiding a local wildlife reservoir of SARS‐CoV‐2 in Belgium. 01/06/2020 - 31/05/2021

Abstract

SARS‐CoV‐2 has its origin in an Asian bat species, but it is now clear that it can infect various unrelated mammal species in addition to humans. Given the circulation of the virus among humans, they may transmit it to wildlife; should this happen, a new reservoir may emerge that will be extremely difficult to control. This should be avoided, but it is not yet clear which naturally occurring species in Belgium are susceptible to the virus. Virus entry in a host cell happens through binding to the ACE2 protein, and is further facilitated by the host's furin and TMPRSS2 proteases; these proteins occur in all species, but their sequences (and thus the structural properties that are required for interaction with the virus) may differ, and that determines whether the host is susceptible to infection. To determine which species possibly can become infected, we will determine the sequences of the involved genes for the different Belgian mammal species. In collaboration with the protein specialists of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences we will map the possible structural and functional implications of variations in amino acid sequences and on this basis evaluate which native mammals potentially could become a reservoir. Based on this, specific measures can then be developed to avoid the creation of such a reservoir.

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Formulating "best practices" and a decision tree for the use of animal-friendly pest control methods for rats and mice. 01/02/2020 - 30/04/2021

Abstract

The Flemish Government has commissioned a study on animal-friendly pest control methods agains rats and mice. The roject is run by INBO, UAntwerp has been subcontracted as an external advisor for this project.

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Stress, sickness and sociality: What are the consequences of environmental stress for behaviour, individual fitness and parasite transmission? 01/11/2019 - 06/07/2021

Abstract

Outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals; e.g. Ebola) in recent years have highlighted the important role that wildlife may play in disease transmission. This is particularly true in situations where humans and animals live in close proximity, and where animals are stressed due to habitat modification. Transmission depends on whether an infected individual contacts a susceptible individual and the likelihood that a susceptible individual is then infected. Habitat alteration changes resource availability and distribution, with consequences for how often animals contact each other, and can increase stress, with consequences for disease susceptibility. Therefore, understanding how environmental stress is going to change disease transmission is of fundamental interest in disease ecology. Here, I propose to use the multimammate mouse to explore how environmental stress influences survival, behaviour and virus transmission. I will use a range of approaches to assess physiological responses to stress in both laboratory and field experiments, combined with state of the art devices to record behaviour in wild, free living rodents. A prolific breeder, the multimammate mouse hosts several zoonotic diseases, and thrives in human dominated landscapes. Therefore , not only is this a pioneering study which will deliver exciting fundamental insights, but understanding how disturbance influences transmission in this species is also of applied interest

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Research in the field of conservation biology. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Donation to the Universiteitsfonds in order to stimulate research in the field of conservation biology. The Department of Biology decides how to use these funds for for grants or salaries for researchers.

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Research team(s)

The link between animal personality and infection risk in natural populations of Mastomys natalensis infected with Morogoro arenavirus. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Animal personality is the phenomenon that behaviour is consistent through time, meaning, for example, that some individuals are always more aggressive than others. Any behaviour can be defined as a personality trait, as long as it is repeatable through time, but personality traits are generally divided into five categories: boldness, exploration, activity, aggressiveness and sociability. Highly explorative individuals may be more likely to encounter mates and thus have high reproductive success, for example, but they may also be at an increased risk of encountering parasites, pathogens, and predators. These fitness costs of personality are understudied, but may have important implications for disease dynamics. Using the natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis) - Morogoro arenavirus study system, I will examine the possible links between personality traits, immune functioning, and infection risk. Specifically, I will 1) establish whether M. natalensis show evidence of consistent personality traits and if any traits are correlated, 2) investigate whether host personality traits are associated with viral infections in free-living populations, 3) determine whether there is a relationship between some personality traits and immune system function, 4) experimentally test whether infection alters the expression of personality traits, and 5) use epidemiological models to explore the potential effects of personality on virus transmission dynamics in free-living populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mastomys natalensis hybrid zones as natural laboratories to investigate the limits of arenavirus spread. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

The Natal multimammate mouse is probably the most widespread African rodent. In West-Africa it carries Lassa virus, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause lethal haemorrhagic fever; in other regions of Africa it carries closely related arenaviruses, but these are not pathogenic to humans. These viruses seem to be restricted to certain geographic regions because they are specific to genetically different subgroups of this mouse species. In Tanzania, three of these subgroups carrying three different non-pathogenic viruses come into contact. It is therefore an ideal place to investigate what happens to these subgroups when they meet and how this affects their arenaviruses. More specifically, I will describe the divergence of the host subgroups, characterise the hybrid zones where the subgroups come into contact, assess the association of different arenaviruses with their host subgroups and study arenavirus evolution and viral load in the hybrid zones. This research will yield insights into speciation processes and help to understand the geographic distribution and evolution of arenaviruses, which is crucial to predict future emergences and to plan interventions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

An assessment of the relation between carbon storage and biodiversity in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve (DR Congo): the potential for biodiversity conservation in carbon conservation programs. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change represents a major threat to biodiversity as well as to human wellbeing. Climate change mitigation strategies such as the UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program aim at protecting and enhancing biosphere carbon (C) stocks, by conserving tropical rainforest systems. However, when forests are protected for their C stock, will the biodiversity (BD) be conserved as well? Components of forest BD may overlap to different degrees, trade off with, or be largely independent from those that intervene in C storage potential. Studies on the spatial congruence of C and BD find no consistent relationship. We argue this is probably due to the large scale analysis and the use of few BD parameters. In this project we will look into the relation between BD and C on a fine scale using data from in the Central Congo basin, an understudied region. The C stock and several species groups were sampled in up to 21 plots in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve (YBR, DR Congo). We will first describe 'biodiversity', a fundamentally undefined term, with a set of BD parameters. Further, we will investigate the relationship between C and BD at both the level of the 21 study plots and, using spatial extrapolation, across the YBR as a whole. Lastly, we will assess the effect of several C conservation strategies on BD and test if it is possible to maximise both C and BD conservation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mastomys natalensis hybrid zones as natural laboratories to investigate the limits of arenavirus spread. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

The Natal multimammate mouse is probably the most widespread African rodent. In West-Africa it carries Lassa virus, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause lethal haemorrhagic fever; in other regions of Africa it carries closely related arenaviruses, but these are not pathogenic to humans. These viruses seem to be restricted to certain geographic regions because they are specific to different genetic lineages of this mouse species. In Tanzania three of these lineages carrying three different non-pathogenic viruses come into contact. It is therefore the ideal place to investigate what happens to these lineages when they meet and how this affects their arenaviruses. The first will yield insights on speciation processes and the second will help to understand the geographic distribution and evolution of Lassa virus, which is crucial to predict future emergences and to plan interventions.

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Research team(s)

Cat population management project. 01/08/2017 - 31/10/2018

Abstract

During 15 months a study will be conducted into possible management scenarios and their impact on stray cats in Flanders. The aim is to provide cities and communities with an instrument that identifies different management options for their areas. To this end, the theoretical cost-benefit model (Høgasen et al.) is adapted to the Flemish context. The project is a collaboration between the Laboratory of Ethology (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University Ghent, Belgium - Prof. Christel Moons and Ciska De Ruyver), Odisee University (Belgium - Els Peeters), Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale (Italy - Paolo Dalla Villa), and the University of Antwerp (Belgium - Prof. Herwig Leirs and Lucinda Kirkpatrick). The project is financed by the Department of the Environment of the Flemish government.

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Research team(s)

Ecological research during the Ebola-outbreak in Likati, DRC, May 2017 26/06/2017 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

In May 2017 an Ebola-outbreak occurred in Likati, Bas-Uélé, DR Congo. In contrast to previous outbreaks, good information was available about the identity and whereabouts of the primary case (the person acquiring the infection from nature). This offered an opportunity for targeted ecological research looking for the potential reservoir of Ebolavirus. This funding allowed a team from UAntwerpen and RBINS to take a leading role in an an expedition together with several other Congolese and international experts.

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Renforcement des capacités académiques face à la réponse et riposte aux épidémies de Monkeypox: discrimination et origine des fièvres éruptives en République Démocratique du Congo (RDC) 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

This project focuses on strengthening the academic capacity of the University of Kisangani in response to and response to outbreaks of eruptive fevers in the Democratic Republic of Congo by training staff and students in epidemiology and epidemic management, and implementing a pilot project, targeting Monkeypox virus, with health personnel from the Aketi Health Zone (Bas-Uele Province). The project includes a research component concerning the zoonotic origin of the Monkeypox virus. The results of this project will lead to improved capacity to investigate and control outbreaks of eruptive fevers in the country.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The link between animal personality and infection risk in natural populations of Mastomys natalensis infected with Morogoro arenavirus. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Animal personality is the phenomenon that behaviour is consistent through time, meaning, for example, that some individuals are always more aggressive than others. Any behaviour can be defined as a personality trait, as long as it is repeatable through time, but personality traits are generally divided into five categories: boldness, exploration, activity, aggressiveness and sociability. Highly explorative individuals may be more likely to encounter mates and thus have high reproductive success, for example, but they may also be at an increased risk of encountering parasites, pathogens, and predators. These fitness costs of personality are understudied, but may have important implications for disease dynamics. Using the natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis) - Morogoro arenavirus study system, I will examine the possible links between personality traits, immune functioning, and infection risk. Specifically, I will 1) establish whether M. natalensis show evidence of consistent personality traits and if any traits are correlated, 2) investigate whether host personality traits are associated with viral infections in free-living populations, 3) determine whether there is a relationship between some personality traits and immune system function, 4) experimentally test whether infection alters the expression of personality traits, and 5) use epidemiological models to explore the potential effects of personality on virus transmission dynamics in free-living populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

PeMaTo. 01/12/2015 - 30/11/2019

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

An assessment of the relation between carbon storage and biodiversity in lowland rainforest in DR Congo 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change represents a major threat to biodiversity as well as to human wellbeing. Climate change mitigation strategies such as the UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program aim at protecting and enhancing biosphere carbon (C) stocks, by conserving tropical rainforest systems. However, when forests are protected for their C stock, will the biodiversity (BD) be conserved as well? Components of forest BD may overlap to different degrees, trade off with, or be largely independent from those that intervene in C storage potential. Studies on the spatial congruence of C and BD find no consistent relationship. We argue this is probably due to the large scale analysis and the use of few BD parameters. In this project we will look into the relation between BD and C on a fine scale using data from in the Central Congo basin, an understudied region. The C stock and several species groups were sampled in up to 21 plots in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve (YBR, DR Congo). We will first describe 'biodiversity', a fundamentally undefined term, with a set of BD parameters. Further, we will investigate the relationship between C and BD at both the level of the 21 study plots and, using spatial extrapolation, across the YBR as a whole. Lastly, we will assess the effect of several C conservation strategies on BD and test if it is possible to maximise both C and BD conservation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecologically based management of rodent pest in maize and rice in East Africa. 15/02/2015 - 31/01/2018

Abstract

Rodent infestation poses a serious threat to smallholder farmers in both developed and developing countries where a large proportion of potential crop yield is lost. In Eastern Africa, there are about 161 species of rodents; however, the major rodent pest is M. natalensis. Seasonal changes in abundance of this species are highly dependent on rainfall and in particular on the timing of the rainy season. Management of rodent pests in eastern Africa relies mostly on use of chemical rodenticides which, however, often are applied only when damage has already occurred (and thus basically too late to have a significant effect on damage) or in contrast as part of a routine treatment (meaning that they are also applied when it is not necessary). Rodenticides used in this way are rarely economically and ecologically sustainable and currently the knowledge about rodent populations on individual farms is too limited to allow smarter approaches. Only for M. natalensis in maize in areas with a bimodal rainfall system, predictive models were developed earlier, and the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture successfully uses these models to preventatively initiate rodenticide-based control when outbreaks of M. natalensis can be expected. However, there is a need to evaluate their wider applicability in other cropping systems and for other species. Ecologically based rodent management uses knowledge about the pest species' ecology in order to reduce the damage experienced by farmers. It does not see the killing of rodents as an objective, but it does not exclude any approach, including the use of rodenticides. Obviously this requires a good knowledge of the species' population biology and behavior. Therefore, as a first objective, the data from this study will refine the prediction models and test them over a wider area and different rodent pest species in east Africa. Specifically for irrigated rice, an alternative novel approach in E. Africa is the "community-based Trap-Barrier-System (cTBS)", basically a system where rodents are trapped in a rice field that is planted a short period earlier than the surrounding fields, and therefore attracting rodents from a much wider area than the field itself. The system proved very successful in irrigated rice fields in SE Asia, increasing rice yields there by 10-25%. Its success depends on the population biology, behavior and movement patterns of the rodent species that cause the damage. This knowledge is still lacking for the species causing damage in rice fields in E. Africa. Therefore, the second major objective of the study is to investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of Trap-Barrier-Systems in rice fields. For both objectives, data will be collected from studies describing the rodent pest community and the involved species' ecology as well as controlled experiments. The project's coordination is taken care of by a research center in Tanzania where much earlier work has been done already, but then also extends its activities to an area in Uganda where serious rodent problems are reported but where local capacity to address the research is still limited. This study will be conducted in Tanzania (Morogoro and Dodoma regions) and Uganda (along Nile River) where farmers grow maize and rice as staple food. The results from this study will be presented to the scientific community (journal articles, conference participations) but also shared with agricultural authorities and of course shareholders like small and large farms (extension leaflets, radio and TV programmes, extension workshops).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

ASCID: Antwerp Study Centre for Infectious Diseases. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

This project represents a research contract awarded by the University of Antwerp. The supervisor provides the Antwerp University research mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions stipulated by the university.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Modelling the risk of agricultural damage in Flanders as a consequence of wild boar (Sus scrofa) presence. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Because of the strong increase of the wild boar population in the fragmented Flemish landscape, more and more agricultural damage is reported. This agricultural damage by the wild boar is the central issue of this PhD research. An impact inventarisation will give an insight about the financial consequences of agricultural damage by wild boars. Next, a model will be developed which makes it possible to assess the specific conditions which makes agricultural fields sensible for damage by the wild boar. Also, the development of a distribution model will make it possible to estimate the future distribution of the wild boar in Flanders. The combination of these research topics will make it possible to make a risk analysis about the consequences of the wild boar for the agricultural sector.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Landscape heterogeneity as a driver of evolutionary divergence in two rodent-borne RNA-viruses: a multi-scale approach. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Evolutionary divergence of directly transmitted virus lineages is often thought to occur either via codivergence with their hosts or due to the micro-evolutionary processes related to isolation by distance. Yet, in case of rapidly evolving RNA viruses with reservoir hosts that have distinct habitat preferences, landscape heterogeneity may be an important factor in virus divergence. Unpreferred host habitat is, through its effect on host density, expected to pose a barrier for virus gene flow, even in the absence of genetic isolation in the host. This is a consequence of host density thresholds for successful viral transmission. This project aims to investigate the role of multi-scale landscape patterns in shaping spatiotemporal patterns of viral divergence in two distinct rodent-borne RNA viruses: Puumala hantavirus in Europe and Mopeia arenavirus in Eastern Africa. On a short-term and regional scale, we will study how local land use patterns affect viral clustering through space. On a long term and continental scale we will investigate how virus success in different genetic host groups has led to the types of viruses currently present in these rodents and how this pattern is affected by historic changes in landscape patterns.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The velvet mite Allothrombium molliculum as natural enemy of pear psylla (Cacopsylla pyri): phenological population model and integration in orchard management. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

The impact of A. molliculum on populations of pear psylla will be studied, together with the impact of different aspects of orchard management on the populations of A. molliculum. A phenological population dynamics model of A. molliculum will be made based on counts in orchards. The model, which uses temperature data as input, can be used by pear growers to check whether they should change the timing of certain management practices to minimalize the damage on velvet mite populations and to unburden them during sensitive periods. This way the already present -but often strongly declined- velvet mite populations will be stimulated so they can be an important factor in the battle against pear psylla.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Domestic, peridomestic and wild rodent population ecology, their public health and pest importance in Wolita and Dawro zones, Southern Ethiopia. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

The general objective of this project is to reduce the burden of rodent pests on the livelihoods of farmer communities in Wolaita and Dawro Zones. The Development specific objectives are to document the local importance of rodents in agriculture and public health and increase awareness and preparedness among ties.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Quantifying the transmission dynamics of two rodentborne viral infections in a variable environment. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

For a better understanding of the transmission of infections, an integrative approach can prove very useful. With the ultimate aim of creating stochastic, individual-based mathematical models of the transmission of a rodent-borne virus (Mopeia virus in the African multimammate mouse Mastomys natalensis), we will use laboratory as well as field experiments to collect the data necessary to feed the models. These models allow us to test fundamental epidemiological theories that have so far proven elusive to prove but are now, thanks to the unique field setup that will be used, possible to test.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecology of Lassa virus and related arenavirus in the natural host Mastomys natalensis. 01/03/2013 - 28/02/2019

Abstract

This is an interdisciplinary project submitted by a German anc! a Belgian partner with complementary expertise in vir% gy and ecology. It is concerned with studying the ec% gy of Arenaviruses that can cause hemorrhagic fever in humans. Our understanding of the transmission mode and viral dynamic of Arenaviruses in wild/ife, however, is very limited. The natural reservoir of some Old Word Arenaviruses, including Lassa virus, is reported to be rats of the genus Mastomys. /n addition, it is a/so not known whether different types of Arenaviruses differ in their pathogenicity in their natural hosts. The object of th is work is to use experimental models and field work to address the issues described above. A better understanding of this issue might help us to identify the risk factor for zoonotic transmission of Arenaviruses from animals to humans.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Land and water research for sustainable livelihood in the South Ethiopian Rift Valley. 28/02/2013 - 28/05/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand VLIR. UA provides VLIR research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Towards a knowledge-based reliable sustainable control of pear leaf flea in pear cultivation. 01/09/2012 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Eco-evolutionary dynamics in natural and anthropogenic communities (FWO Vis. Fel, Alexis RIBAS SALVADOR, Spanje). 02/01/2012 - 01/01/2013

Abstract

The aim of the project is to understand how concomitant infection with helminths and viruses affects the ecology and evolutionary outcome of host-parasite interactions. Concomitant infection, which refers to the situation where two or more infectious agents coexist in the same host, is frequent in nature (Cox 2001). The interaction between concomitant infecting parasites can modify host susceptibility, parasite load intensity and the pattern of parasite distribution within the host population (Cattadori et al. 2008). In parasite communities, the interaction can be direct, when parasites compete for the same resource (e.g. space or food), or indirect, when the host's immune response toward one parasite affects its ability to control a second parasite. Viruses and helminth parasites provoke different immune responses (TH1 in the case of viruses vs TH2 in the case of helminths) (Cox 2001). During concomitant infection there is a trade-off between these two types of responses - once the host invests in one type of response, its investment in the other is reduced leading to an indirect interaction between viruses and helminths via the host.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Host-parasite interactions between resident songbirds, ixodid ticks and Borrelia spirocheten. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

This project aims to increase our understanding, by focussing on: 1) the infestation risk of ticks in woodland songbirds, 2) the capacity of bird-specialized ticks to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, the causative agents of Lyme disease in humans, and 3) the mechanisms of the spread of ticks and their diseases by woodland songbirds. The project focuses on two common hole-breeding songbird acting as tick-hosts, and three tick species with totally different life styles that commonly parasitize terrestrial songbirds in Europe and that co-occur in woodlands.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Complex patterns of host-pathogen interaction: the role of behaviour in mediating the spread of infectious disease through structured host populations. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

Contrary to the large, well-mixed theoretical populations on which the spread of infectious disease has traditionally been modelled, most wildlife and human populations are socially or spatially structured into distinct groups. This is significant, as infection transmission within a structured population will also depend on group dynamics including group connectivity via individual movements. But while theoretical studies have modelled the effects of population structure and connectivity on infection dynamics, the behavioural mechanisms driving connectivity have remained largely unstudied. This project will redress this fundamental issue, using the quintessential infectious disease, plague (Yersinia pestis), and one of its major hosts, great gerbils (Rhombomys opimus), to explore how social and spatial structures within populations affect infection dynamics. Specifically, this project aims to: 1) examine how the movements of great gerbils, their predators and other secondary hosts contribute to connectivity within structured great gerbil populations, and whether there are systematic differences in these measures in different landscapes; 2) implement a large field experiment to test whether derived hypotheses of connectivity account for the spread of fleas (and potentially, therefore, of plague) through structured populations; and 3) seek complex but coherent spatial patterns in the distribution of infected groups using point pattern analyses.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of developmental homeostasis in relation to different kinds of stress: Developmental and evolutionary consequences. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

Developmental homeostasis (or developmental buffering) is a key factor in evolutionary process because it can maintain phenotypic consistency in spite of environmental and genetic variation and because it can hide cryptic genetic variation from selection. Despite a large interest, the basis of canalization and developmental stability (DS), the two main components of developmental buffering, are little understood. The aim of the project is to investigate the relationship between canalization and DS and to gain insights into their basis by studying their patterns of variation in different model species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Quantifying the transmission dynamics of two rodent-borne viral infections in a variable environment. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

For a better understanding of the transmission of infections, an integrative approach can prove very useful. With the ultimate aim of creating stochastic, individual-based mathematical models of the transmission of a rodent-borne virus (Mopeia virus in the African multimammate mouse Mastomys natalensis), we will use laboratory as well as field experiments to collect the data necessary to feed the models. These models allow us to test fundamental epidemiological theories that have so far proven elusive to prove but are now, thanks to the unique field setup that will be used, possible to test.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary biology of arenavirus-rodent interactions. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

The evolutionary interactions of host-pathogen systems are a very interesting topic of fundamental biology, but also contribute to a better understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of infections. I will focus my research on Mopeia virus (MOPV), which is closely related to the dangerous human pathogen Lassa virus (LASV) and has the same rodent host, Mastomys natalensis. MOPV is not pathogenic to humans though, making research on this virus in natural populations of M. natalensis much more feasible. I am aiming to identify the basis of the MOPV-M. natalensis interaction, by performing infection experiments in a laboratory population of M. natalensis and by genotyping different strains of MOPV. After this, I will analyse the variability of these loci in host and virus genome in natural populations through time and space.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Puumala hantavirus variation in heterogeneous environments in western Europe: ecological drivers and epidemiological outcomes. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

We aim to investigate space-time genetic variation of PUUV in Belgium and how it is linked to heterogeneity in PUUV transmission efficiency, persistence and potential micro-evolutionary patterns. Second, we want to identify the ecological drivers of the observed PUUV variation, taking into account reservoir host genetics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

International Congres "11th African Mammal Symposium (ASMS)". 26/05/2011 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

This project represents a formal service agreement between UA and on the other hand VLIR. UA provides VLIR research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The return of the European beaver (Castor fiber) in Belgium as an invasive species, ecology and risk assessment. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

The European beaver (Castor fiber) was illegally reintroduced after an absence of more than one century. I will examine which habitat parameters are the most important for settling and determine which areas are suitable but unoccupied. Then I'll evaluate how easy/difficult these suitable areas can be reached. The effect of river characteristics on the dam building behavior will be analysed. Finally, we will determine a number of areas in Flanders where the dams potentially cause the most economical damage.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Biology and control of vector-borne infections in Europe (EDENext). 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

We want to investigate the biological, ecological and epidemiological components of vector-borne diseases (VBD) introduction, emergence and spread, and to propose innovative tools for controlling them, building on the basis of acquired knowledge. Human behaviour and risk perception are an important component of VBD introduction, emergence and spread. The consequences triggered by VBD for human and veterinary public health in Europe are just starting to emerge in public awareness. We will also account for this aspect of human and veterinary public health in our project.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Congo basin integrated monitoring for forest carbon mitigation and biodiversity (COBIMFO). 15/12/2010 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

The main objective of het project is to get baseline reference data on the C stocks and biodiversity in pristine and intervened dense tropical forests of the Congo Basin and to increase our understanding in the relationship between both variables as a function of forest management (and the likelihood that the societies will preserve these stocks in the long-term).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary history of Old World arenaviruses and their murine hosts in Africa. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

Arenaviruses are viruses normally carried by rodents. Some of them are highly pathogenic to humans. They are divided into the New World (NW) and the Old World (OW) groups. Until recently, it was assumed that arenaviruses stay with the rodent species in which they are found (co-speciation). While a recent study on NW arenaviruses did not find any evidence to support this assumption, the only existing study on OW arenaviruses is not convincing one way or the other. Recent discoveries of new arenaviruses suggest that their evolutionary history is more subtle than previously thought with possible transfers between species depending on the relatedness of the hosts. My project aims to i) analyze a large number of existing rodent samples from East Africa to discover new arenaviruses and test the limits of host specificity; ii) sequence new strains/species of arenaviruses starting with two I found during my first FWO postdoctoral mandate. With this expanded data on OW arenaviruses, I will analyze the processes generating variation in arenaviruses and test for co-speciation and transfer events. I will also test for signals of the selective effect arenaviruses have on their hosts by analyzing polymorphism of the host cell receptor gene of OW arenaviruses.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Soutien académique pour le développement de la recherche appliquée sur les petits mammifères nuisibles en R.D. Congo. 15/05/2010 - 14/05/2013

Abstract

Les obiectifs orincioaux sont de continuer a arneliorer le niveau scientifiaue dans le domaine de la biolonie des rongeurs notamment c o m e vecteurs de maladies et ravageurs des cultures ; de faciliter la recherche des etudiants et doctorants sur place; de creer une nouvelle synergie entre les commuoautes scientifiques intemationales, nationales et locales par la mise a disposition des oeuvres publiees a Kisangani.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population structure, transmission and host specificity in a nidicolous ectoparasite, the tick Ixodes arboricola. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

The aim of this project is to study host specialization and genetic structure in an ecologically specialized tick species, I. arboricola. This project will deliver novel insights into the evolution of host specialization in ticks and more generally in parasites, and the role of different mechanisms herein. In addition we will obtain detailed insights in host selection, transmission and dispersal in a group of ectoparasites with high societal relevance.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary biology of arenavirus-rodent interactions. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

The evolutionary interactions of host-pathogen systems are a very interesting topic of fundamental biology, but also contribute to a better understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of infections. I will focus my research on Mopeia virus (MOPV), which is closely related to the dangerous human pathogen Lassa virus (LASV) and has the same rodent host, Mastomys natalensis. MOPV is not pathogenic to humans though, making research on this virus in natural populations of M. natalensis much more feasible. I am aiming to identify the basis of the MOPV-M. natalensis interaction, by performing infection experiments in a laboratory population of M. natalensis and by genotyping different strains of MOPV. After this, I will analyse the variability of these loci in host and virus genome in natural populations through time and space.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Separating history from natural selection during the co-evolution of hantaviruses and their rodent hosts in Europe. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

Hantaviruses and their rodent/insectivore hosts are often taken as textbook examples of parasite-host co-evolution. But after closer scrutiny, this relationship is actually not that straightforward: the genetic variation within hantavirus lineages shows topological patterns that are considerably different from those of the hosts. In Europe this could possibly be related to the recolonization pattern since the last ice age, but the reasons behind this pattern remain to be elucidated. The purpose of our study would be to try to unravel the evolutionary drivers (e.g. local adaptation and exctinction, co-speciation, host-switching,..) and their relative roles in shaping the current geographic and allelic distribution of the European hantaviruses and their hosts. The work will be done in close co-operation with several specialized research groups (a.o. the Center of Biology and Management of Populations in Montpellier), utilizing state-of-the-art methods in molecular evolutionary genetics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Cost efficient modelling of denominator data for spatial epidemiological studies in extensive livestock systems 01/09/2009 - 31/08/2013

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Habitat utilization, population dynamics of rodents and potential for transmission of zoonoses in agro-ecosystems and human settlements in the Tigrey region, Northern Ethiopia. 01/04/2009 - 31/03/2011

Abstract

Rodent population density changes at spatial and temporal scales due to environmental conditions, habitat type and interactions with the same or different species. It is important to understand the dynamics of these changes in northern Ethiopia. Objectives: (i) To establish habitat utilization of rodents in agricultural/non agricultural landscapes (ii) To investigate the population dynamics of rodent species (iii) To establish the burden of disease pathogens and the temporal variations of zoonotic agents in the rodent populations

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Infectious disease models: wildlife ecology, ecological disturbance and transmission to humans. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

Changing environmental conditions (e.g. climate) are likely to affect the ecology of infections, through changes in the abundance of susceptible natural host populations or by affecting transmission rates (directly or through vectors). This project investigates these effects, through observations, experiments and mathematical modelling, for five model infections selected for their different characteristics (hantaviruses in voles, plague in gerbils, arenavirus in African mice, dengue fever in humans, rotaviruses in vaccinated humans). The insights are used to evaluate potential changes in burden of disease, with or without control measures.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population dynamics -and simulation of earwings in orchards: density dependence in a population of generalist predators. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Earwigs, Forficula auricularia (L.) (Dermaptera, Forficulidae), are very important predators in fruit orchards. They are capable of suppressing outbreaks of pest species like pear psyllid and different aphid species, in apple and pear orchards. Earwigs could play an important role in integrated fruit orchards en could be an essential key factor in organic fruit growing. However, earwig populations are very unstable with large interannual variations in population size. Therefore, their practical use in control strategies stays very limited. To find solutions for this problem we are building a population model which will allow us to analyse the population with sensitivity analysis, so that critical periods in the life-cycle could be identified as targets for interventionbs. This should result into an optimal orchard management were abiotic and biotic factors and the impact of human actions on the earwig population are taken into account. The existing biological information needed to create such a model is not sufficient, especially where it concerns interactions with other species. Using a combination of field -and lab experiments, we will collect information about the model parameters for such interactions. In this project we will focus mainly on density dependent factors, like parasitism (by tachinids), predation, intra- and interspecific competition.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Wildlife population ecology and human-wildlife interactions in and around Saadani National Park. 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

The project is aimed at capacity development at the Department of Wildlife Management at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, in teaching as well as in research. This will be done by improving the zoology laboratory facilities, training Ph.D.- and M.Sc.-students and supporting studies on wildlife ecology and human-wildlife interactions in and around the recently established Saadani National Park. The vertebrate thuna of the park will be inventoried and the ecology of selected model species will be studied. This park is confronted by a number of ecological threats that are related to human livelihood issueg in neighboüring conununities such as blockage of wildlife migratory corridors, habitat loss and use of natural resources. Given the complexities of the threats, both ecological and social studies are crucial. The project will investigate the possible causes, éffects and costs of conflict between local social actors and the park. The specific developmental objective of the project is thus to create a scientific basis for better management of the Saadani ecosystem, within and around the park, while the overall academie objective is to attain academie excellence in wildlife management research and training at SUA.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Studies to identify the reservoir of "Mycobacterium Ulcerans" in nature and its mode(s) of transmission to humans. 01/09/2008 - 31/03/2014

Abstract

Buruli ulcer (BU), a skin disease caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, is endemic in Ghana. Until now little research has been carried out in Ghana to identify the reservoir of this disease. This project aims at carrying out research in order to acquire knowledge about the reservoir and mode(s) of transmission of BU in Ghana allowing the development of prevention strategies. This will lead to a sustainable decrease in morbidity of BU. The research will contribute to developing and promoting NMIMR as a recognised "centre of excellence" for the integrated study of BU at a high academic standard.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary ecology of arenavirus-rodent interactions: the Mopeia virus and its host reservoir, Mastomys natalensis. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

The objectives of the project are to investigate i) the spatio-temporal patterns of MV occurrence in relation to M. natalensis dynamics and environmental factors in Tanzania and ii) the role of MV in the evolution of the reservoir host populations. More specifically, I will address the following questions : 1-Is there a spatio-temporal pattern in the occurrence of MV among M. natalensis populations in relation to their population dynamics? 2-What demographic traits influence the probability of an individual rat being or becoming virus antibody positive? 3- What habitat features are correlated to the presence of MV? 4- What is the evolutionary impact of MV on its host populations, especially on the MHC polymorphism?

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population dynamics -and simulation of earwings in orchards: density dependence in a population of generalist predators. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Earwigs, Forficula auricularia (L.) (Dermaptera, Forficulidae), are very important predators in fruit orchards. They are capable of suppressing outbreaks of pest species like pear psyllid and different aphid species, in apple and pear orchards. Earwigs could play an important role in integrated fruit orchards en could be an essential key factor in organic fruit growing. However, earwig populations are very unstable with large interannual variations in population size. Therefore, their practical use in control strategies stays very limited. To find solutions for this problem we are building a population model which will allow us to analyse the population with sensitivity analysis, so that critical periods in the life-cycle could be identified as targets for interventionbs. This should result into an optimal orchard management were abiotic and biotic factors and the impact of human actions on the earwig population are taken into account. The existing biological information needed to create such a model is not sufficient, especially where it concerns interactions with other species. Using a combination of field ¿and lab experiments, we will collect information about the model parameters for such interactions. In this project we will focus mainly on density dependent factors, like parasitism (by tachinids), predation, intra- and interspecific competition.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Geographical modelling of the distribution of bubonic plague in Africa: an ecological study on different scale levels. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Bubonic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is a zoonose that prevails in small mammals and is transmitted by their ectoparasites, i.e. fleas. The disease occurs in natural foci spread all over the world. Up to present, the ecology of plague is still unknown; more specifically, the mechanisms that determine the presence of bubonic plague in specific regions are not well understood. This study aims at (1) contributing to the better understanding of the mechanisms that determine the presence of plague in certain regions, (2) establishing underlying ecological factors that influence the occurrence of plague and (3) identifying areas of potential plague risk in Africa. However, there is only little scientific knowledge to go by, it is difficult to formulate specific hypotheses, and consequently, also difficult to stipulate an exact scale level to work on. Therefore, the phenomena plague is studied on three different scale levels. On the first level ¿ the continental level -, the distribution of plague is considered on the continent Africa. During the last decades, Africa was characterized by a very high percentage (more then 90%) of all human plague cases. The plague problem is approached by means of a recent technique used in research concerning the ecology and epidemiology of infectious diseases, Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM). Ecological niches and potential geographic distributions are modelled using the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction (GARP). In general GARP focuses on modelling ecologic conditions wherein a species, in this case bubonic plague, can maintain populations without immigration. Specifically, GARP relates ecological characteristics of occurrence points to those of points sampled randomly from the rest of the study region, developing a series of decision rules that best summarize factors associated with presence. As a final result, potential plague distribution areas are identified and demarcated. On the second level, the same ENM-approach is practiced for two endemic plague regions (Lushoto district, in Tanzania and Ituri district, in DRCongo) and their surroundings with this distinction that the resolution from the environmental GIS coverages is higher. In this way, other environmental variables could be studied and moreover, we could examine them in more detail. In addition, specific attention can be drawn to the transition between the plague region and their surroundings. Finally, on the third level, we focus on some villages in Lushoto district. Abiotic and biotic characteristics (soil characteristics like texture, soil humidity, soil temperature, etc.; landscape connectivity; rodent and flea species composition, climatic variables; population density in the villages and their hamlets; etc.) are collected and compared in some plague-positive and plague-negative villages in order to establish underlying ecological variables that are (partly) responsible for the presence of plague in a village.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sexual selection in hermaphroditic land snails (Gastropoda, Pulmonata, Succineidae). 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

This project uses the land snail Succinea putris to test several recent hypotheses on sexual selection and sperm-trading in hermaphroditic animals: 1) individuals assess the quality of their partner even during copulation, 2) individuals change the physiology of their partner to enhance their fertilization chances, 3) individuals allocate more to male structures at higher population densities and 4) reciprocal sperm-transfer not necessarily implements reciprocal fertilization.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sexual conflict, parasites and the evolution of damselfly mating systems. 01/10/2006 - 31/07/2009

Abstract

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The adaptation ability of small mammals to utilise newly created habitats in fragmented rainforest: ecological and genetical backgrounds. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

The role of developmental homeostasis on the evolutionary potential of a complex trait: the skull of the multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) as model system. 01/07/2006 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Morphological development is affected by deterministic (environment and genotype) and stochastic (developmental stability and canalisation) components. The latter potentially relates to stress and may play an important role in evolutionary processes. In this project the effects of foodstress on developmental stability and canalisation will be studied using the skull of the multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) as model system. The genetic basis of the stochastic components will be investigated.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Rodent dynamics and damage in rainfed crops in Tigray, northern Ethiopia: development and evaluation of rodent management strategies. 01/04/2006 - 31/03/2008

Abstract

Rodents are responsible for substantial damage to food and cash crops worldwide. Although several species are recognized as pests, there are no quantified estimates of crop losses due to rodents in most of Ethiopia. The presence of refuge habitats may have impact on the neighbouring fields with crops. Stone bunds are a farming and land management system with several advantages including soil and water conservation, increased yields of crops and a more sustainable farming practice. However, it is also claimed by farmers that the system has created good habitats for rodents. Control measures are taken only when rodent population densities are high and heavy damage is noticed in the field. In the proposed study, we will investigate the importance of rodents in fields with and without stone bunds and determine whether rodent problems undermine the advantages of increased crop yields in the stone bund fields. Further, the study shall examine the most appropriate strategies for management of rodents in these systems and how they can be integrated in an easy to adopt package.

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Towards an ecological explanation for the focality of a vector-borne parasite infection, bubonic plague, in Lushoto, Tanzania. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2009

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In the proposed project, we will investigate the hypotheses that the ecological factors responsible for the focality are the rodent and flea fauna composition and density, soil composition, microclimate (humidity, temperature, exposure), connectivity of the landscape or a combination of such elements. Testing these hypotheses will help us in understanding how pathogens spread (or are limited) within a host population. This will in turn be a basis to develop risk maps that can predict areas where plague could possibly establish itself permanently, or where human plague is more likely to occur.

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Molecular phylogeography of Mastomys natalensis: an evolutionary framework for understanding rodent-borne diseases. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2006

Abstract

The objective of this proposal is to complete the study of rodent-borne diseases by establishing an evolutionary framework of the host pathogen interactions. The phylogeography of the African multimammate mouse M. natalensis, reservoir for arenaviruses and other pathogens, will be realised using molecular markers. The results will be used to reconstruct the relationships among M. natalensis populations and investigate the co-evolution between M. natalensis and arenaviruses.

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The role of rodents and insectivores in the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in Africa. 01/10/2005 - 16/02/2010

Abstract

To determine the role of rodents and insectivores in the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in Africa, a large number of small mammals is captured in sites in Tanzania where mycobacterial infections are reported in humans and livestock. Different organs of these animals are tested using culture methods, PCR and acid fast staining. The isolated mycobacteria are compared with previously isolated mycobacteria in humans and livestock.

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Dynamics in the population of the Common earwig in orchards: optimization of the presence of an essential predator. 01/07/2005 - 30/06/2009

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Morphological and molecular species delimitations in selected East African murines (Mastomys, Arvicanthis en Lophuromys). 01/04/2005 - 30/09/2005

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Despite the fact that several African murines are known to spread diseases, and that some taxa are responsible for the destruction to the crops of African farmers, the taxonomy of these species is poorly known. The objective of this proposal is to combine craniometric and molecular methods to delimit and characterize some of these pest species. The result will be a tool ('DNA barcode) that allows the fast and accurate identification of these taxa, a precondition for their effective management.

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Emerging diseases in a changing European environment. (EDEN) 01/11/2004 - 31/05/2010

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A bio-economical model for rodent control in Africa : a regional solution for a local problem ? 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2008

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Mastomys mice are the most important rodent pests in Africa. An existing, but site-restricted bio-economical model will be validated, for the first time under real field conditions and in cooperation with local farmers. Regional variation in population dynamics will be included in the model through the demographic analysis of existing capture-recapture data from 4 countries. The final model will provide a tool to formulate economical control strategies.

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The role of rodents in the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in Africa. 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2005

Abstract

Mycobacteria can cause a variety of diseases, e.g. leprosy, tuberculosis and Buruli ulcer. Control of mycobacterial diseases is important because of the rising number of HIV-infected patients, especially in developing countries. Rodents can be a reservoir for mycobacteria and therefore a source of infection for humans and livestock. However, it is not yet clear how prevalent mycobacterial infections are in rodents and what their possible role is in the transmission of these infections. A better insight in the role of rodents will contribute to the understanding of the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in densely populated areas with low levels of hygiene, e.g. in and around expanding cities in Africa. In this study we will try to make an inventory of the mycobacterial flora in rodents caught in and around an African city. The isolated strains will be compared, using molecular techniques, with mycobacteria isolated from humans and livestock. Until now, natural reservoirs have been poorly investigated, earlier studies focus primarily on either humans or livestock. In this study we include livestock because of its economical importance but mainly because it is a well documented source of infection for zoonotic tuberculosis. The final objective is to come to a better control of the disease with better control strategies through a better understanding of the ecology of these infections.

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Les rongeurs à Kisangani : patrimoine, peste et pilote. 01/03/2004 - 28/02/2009

Abstract

The project aims to offer the University of Kisangani the opportunity to (re)build its international contacts. This will be done through a pilot project in the department of biology, studying the rodent biodiversity in the Kisangani area, changes in this fauna due to deforestation and rodents' role as pest species in agriculture. It is expected that this project, besides its own scientific value, also will support the new dynamism within UNIKIS.

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Demographic and population dynamic modelling of small rodents in semiarid environments. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

For decades the relative importance of environmental (density-independent) factors and system intrinsic feedback mechanisms (density dependence) in determining population dynamics have been debated among ecologists. Small mammal populations have been intensely studied, stimulated by the remarkable cycles that were observed in voles and lemmings in the holarctic region. More southward, small mammal populations are not cyclic and these have received less attention. Population outbreaks of small rodents in western South America and eastern Africa (such as the leaf-eared mouse Phyllotis darwini and the African multimammate rat Mastomys natalensis) are correlated with years of unusually high rainfall and increased primary production. The population dynamic patterns however appear to be very different. Both small rodents respond positively to rainfall pulses, but there are important differences in the seasonal, density-dependent and density-independent structures. In the African multimammate mouse, the density-dependent processes are of first order, suggesting a direct effect of density on population growth. The existence of delayed density-dependence in leaf-eared mouse in Chile may imply some trophic interaction with predators. In order to understand the consequences of these differences, we will investigate how demographic processes respond to environmental variability for populations having direct and delayed density-dependencies of varying strength. In addition, we need to understand the functional dependence of population growth rate on the degree of variation in demographic rates and to understand how these demographic rates have varied in the past.

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Maintenance and evolution of intrasexual colour polymorphism in damselflies. 01/10/2003 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

Although, sexual variation is traditionally understood as being any difference exhibited between males and females, evolution has often resulted in the coexistence of alternative reproductive morphs within the sexes. Significant progress has been made in understanding within species coexistence of discrete male colour morphs, while female polymorphism is less understood. Typically, one of the female damselfly morphs is coloured like the male, while the other morphs are different. While one group of researchers argue that male-like females are functionally male mimics, others believe that males predominantly mate with the most common female morph in the population. Importantly, both field and experimental (using different insectaries with a range of densities and frequencies) studies support a relationship between population conditions (density, sex ratio, morph frequency) and morph-specific fitness correlates (i.e. survival, mating success). However, in order to explain the maintenance of female polymorphism, differences in morph-specific fitness should be encountered if fluctuations occur in population conditions. Unfortunately, only very limited information on spatial and temporal fluctuations in population conditions and related morph-specific costs and benefits is available. Our current understandings of emergence, maintenance and disappearance of multiple female morphs are even more limited. One way to examine the evolution of female polymorphism is to consider closely related species with known phylogenetic relationships. If species differ in presence/absence of multiple female morphs and in ecology then inspection of the phylogenetic tree will contribute to our understandings of female polymorphism.

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Matching fund bij Europees project "Prevention of sanitary risks linked to rodents at the rural/peri-urban interface". 01/10/2003 - 31/12/2005

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01/08/2003 - 31/07/2004

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Prevention of sanitary risks linked to rodents at the rural/peri-urban interface. (RATZOOMAN) 01/01/2003 - 30/06/2006

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01/01/2003 - 31/12/2004

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01/12/2002 - 31/12/2002

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    01/10/2002 - 30/09/2003

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      01/06/2002 - 30/09/2004

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      01/02/2002 - 31/03/2004

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      Gene flow and effective population size in non-equilibrium conditions. 01/01/2001 - 31/12/2004

      Abstract

      Maintenance of genetic variation is a central aim to long-term management of free-living populations. Estimates of effective population size and gene flow often require assumptions on equilibrium between mutation, gene flow and drift, and are not applicable to strongly fluctuating or decreasing populations. In this project we use time series of genetic samples of birds and mammals to test methods calculating genetic parameters in non-equilibrium conditions.

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      Study of the genetic variation and the consequences of inbreeding in isolated vertebrate populations using microsatellite-DNA-markers. 01/01/1997 - 31/12/2000

      Abstract

      The general objectives of this project are (1) to quantify the relations between fragmentation, dispersal and genetic variation, and (2) to investigate the relation between genetic variation in a population and individual fitness. More specifically, we want to test the hypothesis that an increase in relatedness between individuals (inbreeding) is correlated with a reduction in reproductive success, and investigate whether this influences the dynamics of the population.

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        Dispersion dynamics in rodents. 01/07/1996 - 31/12/1997

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          Establishing success of immigrants in a wood-mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) population. 01/05/1996 - 30/04/1998

          Abstract

          This project is situated in the frame of the investigation of phenomena of dispersion with rodents. Immigrants intruding upon a population can withdraw themselves again, can successfully establish or die. By means of classical catching methods it is however not possible to discern these processes and to follow up the course of them. With the aid of a new technique which automatically registrates which animals enter or leave the population and by means of radio-telemetry this will made possible.

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