The flux of terrestrially derived pathogens to coastal waters presents a significant health risk to marine wildlife, as well as to humans who utilize the nearshore for recreation and seafood harvest. Anthropogenic changes in natural habitats may result in increased transmission of zoonotic pathogens to coastal waters. The objective of our work was to evaluate how human-caused alterations of coastal landscapes in California affect the transport of Toxoplasma gondii to estuarine waters. Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that is excretedin the feces of infected felids and is thought to reach coastal waters in contaminated runoff. This zoonotic pathogen causes waterborne toxoplasmosis in humans and is a significant cause of death in threatened California sea otters. Surrogate particles that mimic the behaviorof T. gondii oocysts in water were released in transport studies to evaluate if the loss of estuarine wetlands is contributing to an increased flux of oocysts into coastal waters. Compared to vegetated sites, more surrogates were recovered from unvegetated mudflat habitats,which represent degraded wetlands. Specifically, in Elkhorn Slough, where a large proportion of otters are infected with T. gondii, erosion of 36% of vegetated wetlands to mudflats may increase the flux of oocysts by more than 2 orders of magnitude. Total degradation of wetlands may result in increased Toxoplasma transport of 6 orders of magnitude or more. Destruction of wetland habitats along central coastal California may thus facilitate pathogen pollution in coastal waters wit detrimental health impacts to wildlife and humans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Food Science