Environmental suitability of bare-nosed wombat burrows for Sarcoptes scabiei
Browne, E and Driessen, MM and Ross, R and Roach, M and Carver, S, Environmental suitability of bare-nosed wombat burrows for Sarcoptes scabiei, International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 16 pp. 37-47. ISSN 2213-2244 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Some of the most important pathogens affecting wildlife are transmitted indirectly via the environment. Yet the environmental stages of pathogens are often poorly understood, relative to infection in the host, making this an important research frontier. Sarcoptic mange is a globally widespread disease caused by the parasitic mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The bare-nosed wombat (Vombatus ursinus) is particularly susceptible, and their solitary nature and overlapping use of burrows strongly indicate the importance of environmental transmission. However, due to the challenge of accessing and monitoring within wombat burrows, there has been limited research into their suitability for off-host mite survival and environmental transmission (i.e., to serve as a fomite). We created a model using published laboratory data to predict mite survival times based on temperature and humidity. We then implemented innovative technologies (ground-penetrating radar and a tele-operated robotic vehicle) to map and access wombat burrows to record temperature and relative humidity. We found that the stable conditions within burrows were conducive for off-host survival of S. scabiei, particularly in winter (estimated mite survival of 16.41 ± 0.34 days) and less so in warmer and drier months (summer estimated survival of 5.96 ± 0.37 days). We also compared two areas with higher and lower average mange prevalence in wombats (13.35% and 4.65%, respectively), finding estimated mite survival was slightly higher in the low prevalence area (10.10 and 12.12 days, respectively), contrary to our expectations, suggesting other factors are also important for population prevalence. Our study is the first to demonstrate the suitability of the bare-nosed wombat burrow for off-host mite survival and environmental transmission. Our findings have implications for understanding observed patterns of mange, disease dynamics and disease management for not only bare-nosed wombats, but also other burrow or den-obligate species exposed to S. scabiei via environmental transmission.