ABSTRACT

Given a changing climate and large-scale human migration, understanding infectious diseases in wildlife and the factors that drive the spread of these diseases is becoming increasingly important. Owing to the close phylogenetic relationship between nonhuman primates and humans, primate parasites are of particular interest due to the potential for zoonotic disease transmission and for the study of social transmission within gregarious social groups. There is a wide range of social and environmental factors that influence the prevalence and transmission of pathogens, and identifying these, and their effects, is crucial to understanding the population-level consequences of climate change for animals that live in obligate social groups. Here we investigated gastrointestinal parasite species richness and used fecal egg counts to estimate worm intensities in 3 vervet monkey troops (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) in a high latitude, semi-arid region of South Africa. This region is characterized by unpredictable rainfall and temperature extremes in summer and winter. We identified the gastrointestinal parasites in the population and explored potential demographic predictors, namely sex and troop membership, of parasite species richness and estimated intensity. Additionally, we assessed whether there was short-term intra-individual, inter-sample consistency in egg counts. Six species of gastrointestinal helminths were identified from 3 study troops, with egg counts ranging from 0 eggs/g to 1,100 eggs/g. Neither age nor sex predicted species richness or estimated intensity. This population had the highest prevalence of parasites with an insect vector compared with all other vervet populations studied, and distinctively high prevalences of Trichostrongylus sp. (71%) and Ternidens sp. (27%). Additionally, we found intra-individual egg count consistency in the short term (mean: 32 days).

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