Socio-ecology of the marsh rice rat (Oryzomys palustris) and the spatio-temporal distribution of Bayou virus in coastal Texas
Along the southeastern coast of the United States of America (USA), the marsh rice rat (Oryzomys palustris) is the primary host for the hantavirus genotype Bayou. According to the socio-ecological model for a territorial, polygamous species, females should be distributed across space and time by habitat resources and predation risks, whereas males should space themselves according to the degree of female aggregation and reproductive synchrony. To investigate how females affect the male-male transmission paradigm of Bayou virus, rodents were captured, marked, released, and re-captured in two macrohabitat types across a 30-month period. Microhabitat cover variables were quantified around the individual trap stations. A geodatabase was created from habitat and rodent capture data and analysed in a geographical information system. The ratio of breeding to non-breeding females was similar to 1:1, with breeding females overly dispersed and non-breeding females randomly dispersed. Spatial analyses revealed both macro-and microhabitat preferences in females. Compared to sero-negatives, higher proportions of seropositive adult males were found consistently within closer proximities to breeding females but not to non-breeding females, indicating that male locations were not driven simply by habitat selection. Activities to acquire dispersed receptive females could be an important driver of Bayou virus transmission among male hosts. To date, socio-ecological theory has received little attention as an investigative framework for studying pathogen dynamics in small, solitary mammals. Herein, we describe an interdisciplinary effort providing a novel approach to elucidate the complexity of hantavirus trafficking and maintenance in rodent populations of a coastal marsh ecosystem.