Identifying future zoonotic disease threats: Where are the gaps in our understanding of primate infectious diseases?

Evol Med Public Health. 2013 Jan;2013(1):27-36. doi: 10.1093/emph/eot001. Epub 2013 Jan 22.


Background and objectives: Emerging infectious diseases often originate in wildlife, making it important to identify infectious agents in wild populations. It is widely acknowledged that wild animals are incompletely sampled for infectious agents, especially in developing countries, but it is unclear how much more sampling is needed, and where that effort should focus in terms of host species and geographic locations. Here, we identify these gaps in primate parasites, many of which have already emerged as threats to human health.

Methodology: We obtained primate host-parasite records and other variables from existing databases. We then investigated sampling effort within primates relative to their geographic range size, and within countries relative to their primate species richness. We used generalized linear models, controlling for phylogenetic or spatial autocorrelation, to model variation in sampling effort across primates and countries. Finally, we used species richness estimators to extrapolate parasite species richness.

Results: We found uneven sampling effort within all primate groups and continents. Sampling effort among primates was influenced by their geographic range size and substrate use, with terrestrial species receiving more sampling. Our parasite species richness estimates suggested that, among the best sampled primates and countries, almost half of primate parasites remain to be sampled; for most primate hosts, the situation is much worse.

Conclusions and implications: Sampling effort for primate parasites is uneven and low. The sobering message is that we know little about even the best studied primates, and even less regarding the spatial and temporal distribution of parasitism within species.

Keywords: Global Mammal Parasite Database; parasite species richness; relative sampling effort; sampling events.