Amplification of pathogenic Leptospira infection with greater abundance and co-occurrence of rodent hosts across a counter-urbanizing landscape

Anna C. Peterson, Bruno M. Ghersi, Claudia Riegel, Elsio A. Wunder, James E. Childs, Michael J. Blum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Land use change can elevate disease risk by creating conditions beneficial to species that carry zoonotic pathogens. Observations of concordant global trends in increased pathogen prevalence or disease incidence and landscape change have generated concerns that urbanization could increase transmission risk of some pathogens. Yet host–pathogen relationships underlying transmission risk have not been well characterized within cities, even where contact between humans and species capable of transmitting pathogens of concern occurs. We addressed this deficit by testing the hypothesis that areas in cities experiencing greater population loss and infrastructure decline (i.e., counter-urbanization) can support a greater diversity of host species and a larger and more diverse pool of pathogens. We did so by characterizing pathogenic Leptospira infection relative to rodent host richness and abundance across a mosaic of abandonment in post-Katrina New Orleans (Louisiana, USA). We found that Leptospira infection loads were highest in areas that harboured increased rodent species richness (which ranged from one to four rodent species detected). Areas with greater host co-occurrence also harboured a greater abundance of hosts, including the host species most likely to carry high infection loads, indicating that Leptospira infection can be amplified by increases in overall and relative host abundance. Evidence of shared infection among rodent host species indicates that cross-species transmission of Leptospira probably increases infection at sites with greater host richness. Additionally, evidence that rodent co-occurrence and abundance and Leptospira infection load parallel abandonment suggests that counter-urbanization can elevate zoonotic disease risk within cities, particularly in underserved communities that are burdened with disproportionate concentrations of derelict properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular Ecology
StateAccepted/In press - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • biodiversity
  • de-urbanization
  • disease biology
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • socio-ecological interactions
  • zoonotic disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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