The 3 most common wildlife-livestock interfaces for the spread of infectious diseases are between birds and poultry, artiodactyls and cattle, and carnivores and cattle.1 In North America, the presence of coyotes (Canis latrans) and foxes (Vulpes spp) has been considered a risk factor for heteroxenous coccidian infections in cattle.23 Coyotes are suggested to be definitive hosts of Neospora caninum4; however, the role of free-ranging carnivores such as coyotes in the epidemiology of ungulate coccidiosis and, specifically, the dynamics of N caninum transmission has yet to be established in natural settings.
Historically, coyotes have been restricted mostly to the prairies of central North America. A recent dramatic increase of coyote ranges and populations has enabled them to expand throughout the contiguous United States and Mexico, a vast area of Canada, and Central America.5 Therefore, an increase is expected in the probability of contact between coyotes and livestock.4,6 An indication of this probability of contact is the rate of cattle losses by predation, which in the United States increased from 2.4% in 1991 to 5.5% in 2010.7,8 Approximately 90% of this predation was due to coyotes.7,8 In Ohio specifically, the coyote population has increased 3-fold since 1990, and the rate of cattle losses by predation has increased from 0.9% in 1995 to 5.6% in 2010.8–10
Although predation is an obvious result of the expanding coyote population, coyotes also influence livestock production through their roles as disease hosts and vectors. On the other hand, coyotes serve an essential ecological function of regulating populations of species, such as rodents and foxes, that can also serve as hosts and vectors of disease. Furthermore, coyotes serve as a biocontrol for overabundant species, such as Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).11 For example, the role of wild-prey biomass in decreasing sheep predation by coyotes has been described,12 highlighting the importance of healthy food web dynamics in the overall sustainability of an ecosystem.
In previous and ongoing investigations in southeastern Ohio, positive results of serologic testing for N caninum have been obtained for captive ungulates such as Père David deer (Elaphurus davidianus), bison (Bison bison), domestic cattle (Bos taurus), and white-tailed deer.13,14,a,b Although a preliminary studyc revealed small (< 20 μm) coccidia in a small number (n = 29) of coyote fecal samples by microscopic examination, molecular methods were used only to rule out N caninum and not to identify the responsible coccidian species. The purpose of the study reported here was to determine the role of coyote feces in the transmission dynamics of heteroxenous coccidia that may infect ruminant species in southeastern Ohio by estimating relative density of wild canids in that region, assessing the prevalence of environmental contamination with DNA of coccidian oocysts shed by wild canids, and measuring associations between detection of coccidian oocysts and putative risk factors for transmission to livestock (ie, cattle density, wild canid relative density, and land use).
This manuscript represents a modified portion of a thesis submitted by Dr. Moreno-Torres to The Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine as partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Doctor in Philosophy degree.
Funded by a gift from Duncan Alexander, grants from OSU CARES and Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, and a National Institutes of Health summer research fellowship (No. T35 OD010977).
Funding sources had no involvement in the study design, data analysis and interpretation, or writing and publication of the manuscript.
The authors thank Craig Hicks for providing advice on wildlife collection permits and providing control samples and Jean Dubach for molecular support on genetic analysis support for host identification.
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