Understanding the Influence of Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo) Social Structuring on Disease Transmission Using Molecular Tools

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Virginia Tech


Understanding the disease transmission dynamics in wildlife species can be difficult and can prove more complicated if the population structure of a socially living species is shaped by territoriality. Understanding the connections and movements of individuals between groups is vital to documenting how a disease may be spread. The presence of a heterogeneous landscape can further complicate attempts to describe transmission of an infectious disease. Here, I sought to understand how dispersal patterns of individual banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) could potentially influence disease transmission. Banded mongooses are small fossorial mammals that live in social groups ranging from 5 to 75 individuals and defend their territories against rival troops. The focal population of mongooses for this study lives across a complex environment in the Chobe district of northern Botswana and is faced with a novel strain of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium mungi. To infer genetic structure and individual movements between troops, I utilized microsatellite genetic markers and population genetic analyses.

I found moderately strong genetic structuring (FST = 0.086) among 12 troops of banded mongooses in the study area in 2017-18. The best supported number of genetic clusters was K = 7, with a considerable amount of admixture between troops in urban areas. Compared to the average pairwise differentiation values of troops residing in natural habitats (FST = 0.102), urban troops had a lower level of differentiation (FST = 0.081), which suggests more gene flow between these troops. Among 168 mongooses genotyped, 20 were identified as being likely dispersers, with the majority moving across anthropogenic environments, suggesting that dispersal is heightened in urbanized areas.

To assess whether temporal variation had an effect on genetic structure and gene flow between troops, I compared population genetic results from 5 troops in 2008 to those from the same 5 troops in 2017. Genetic differentiation was lower between troops living in urban environments than in natural environments for both 2008 and 2017. This result suggests higher gene flow across the anthropogenic landscapes at both times steps. The overall genetic structuring of the troops persisted over almost a decade, with the exception of observing more mixture and admixture in 2017 than in 2008. The effective population sizes (Ne) of troops were larger in 2008, which would indicate that genetic variability declined as time progressed. For 11 individuals confirmed to have M. mungi, an assignment test suggested that 3 mongooses were likely dispersers. This finding would contradict that of previous work, which suggested that sick banded mongooses refrained from dispersing. Sequencing of the M. mungi strains would be needed to determine whether these dispersers moved while sick or became infected after entering their new troop.

These findings suggest that emphasis should be placed on closely monitoring banded mongoose troops in areas with heavy human influence. Here we see lower pairwise differentiation, higher gene flow estimates, and more frequent dispersal events. Heightened dispersal potentially can result in elevated disease transmission between troops in urban habitats. With disease transmission being the result of complex interactions between environment, host, pathogen, and time, results from this study contribute to understanding of disease transmission dynamics.



banded mongoose, Mycobacterium mungi, genetic structure, dispersal, urban landscape