Journal Article

2021

Munib KhanyariKulbhushansingh SuryawanshiAbhirup Khara
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Predicting Parasite Dynamics in Mixed-Use Trans-Himalayan Pastures to Underpin Management of Cross-Transmission Between Livestock and Bharal

The complexities of multi-use landscapes require sophisticated approaches to addressing disease transmission risks. We explored gastro-intestinal nematode (GINs) infections in the North India Trans-Himalayas through a socio-ecological lens, integrating parasite transmission modelling with field surveys and local knowledge, and evaluated the likely effectiveness of potential interventions. Bharal (blue sheep; Pseudois nayaur), a native wild herbivore, and livestock share pasture year-round and livestock commonly show signs of GINs infection. While both wild and domestic ungulates had GINs infections, egg counts indicated significantly higher parasite burdens in bharal than livestock. However, due to higher livestock densities, they contributed more to the total count of eggs and infective larvae on pasture. Herders also reported health issues in their sheep and goats consistent with parasite infections. Model simulations suggested that pasture infectivity in this system is governed by historical pasture use and gradually accumulated larval development during the summer, with no distinct short-term flashpoints for transmission. The most effective intervention was consequently predicted to be early-season parasite suppression in livestock using temperature in spring as a cue. A 1-month pause in egg output from livestock could lead to a reduction in total annual availability of infective larvae on pasture of 76%, potentially benefitting the health of both livestock and bharal. Modelling suggested that climate change over the past 33 years has led to no overall change in GINs transmission potential, but an increase in the relative influence of temperature over precipitation in driving pasture infectivity. Our study provides a transferable multi-pronged approach to investigating disease transmission, in order to support herders' livelihoods and conserve wild ungulates.