Source:  News    Tag:  how communicable diseases are spread
Setting a dinner table for wildlife can affect their risk of disease.

Supplemental feeding of wildlife can increase the spread of some infectious diseases and decrease the spread of others. A new study by University of Georgia ecologists finds that the outcome depends on the type of pathogen and the source of food.

The findings, published in the journal Ecology Letters, have implications for human health and wildlife conservation, and contain practical suggestions for wildlife disease management and a roadmap for future study.

Supplemental feeding--when people provide food to wildlife--is growing more common. As people move into previously undeveloped areas and habitat is lost to development or agriculture, wildlife ecology changes. Natural sources of food often decrease, and new abundant sources, provided by people, appear. Sometimes these are intentional, like backyard bird feeders or winter feeding stations for an elk herd in a national park; sometimes they're accidental, like landfills or poorly secured garbage cans. The resulting changes in behavior and nutrition can affect how diseases impact wildlife.

With pathogens like bacteria or viruses that are spread by close contact, food sources that attract large numbers of animals can encourage transmission, including transmission from one species to another--even to humans. This is suggested with the spread of Nipah virus in Malaysia, where infected fruit bats are attracted to fruit trees planted by farmers, bringing them into contact with livestock and people.