Human-primate Disease Transmission

Nearly forty percent of tropical infectious diseases originate in primates. These novel pathogens often emerge from wildlife reservoirs as a result of anthropogenic disturbances such as human encroachment upon tropical forests, agriculture, deforestation, hunting, and climate change. Despite an extensive body of research, the complex interactions between the environment, hosts and their parasite populations that subsequently lead to disease emergence is still not fully understood.

Project Title: A tale of anthropogenic disturbance: how forest degradation and human encroachment on primate populations influences parasite communities

To address the current research gap, this study addresses the following research objectives:

  1. Characterize the parasite community in human and nonhuman primates, and evaluate the composition of species as it relates to interspecies proximity and environmental disturbance.
  2. Establish whether specific parasite species occur in both monkeys and humans populations based on morphological and genetic analysis.
  3. Determine whether demographic attributes and human activities make individuals more susceptible to parasites typically found in primates.
  4. Establish if human disturbances are associated with changes in fecal cortisol levels in primate populations.
  5. Evaluate whether individual primates with higher stress levels exhibit an increased abundance of specific parasite species and increased diversity of parasites.

In short, this study is one of the first studies based in South America that attempts to chronicle the full scale of primate and human parasitism in adjoining populations (i.e. abundance, prevalence, and diversity), address the impact of environmental degradation on primate parasite populations, and attempt to classify those human attributes and actions most likely to increase parasite transmission between human and monkey populations.

Location: Ecuador

Timeline: 2009-2011

Field participants:
Student volunteers from Syracuse University, SUNY-ESF, University of British Colombia, Vanderbilt University, SUNY Buffalo, Northland College, and University of Alabama

Principal Investigators:
William D. Helenbrook and Asst. Prof. Christopher M. Whipps, SUNY-ESF

Program in Latin America and the Caribbean (PLACA), Sigma Xi and Leroy C. Stegeman Award.

William D. Helenbrook, SUNY-ESF
Syracuse, New York 13210