Research Press Release

Climate change: Higher temperature extremes may increase tuberculosis risk in meerkats

Nature Climate Change

February 8, 2022

Higher temperature extremes may increase the risk of outbreaks of tuberculosis in Kalahari meerkats by increasing physiological stress, as well as the movement of males between groups, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change.

Climate change can alter both the transmission and impact of disease, for example, droughts increasing the spread of disease-causing organisms or thermal stress increasing susceptibility to infection. Animals that live in social groups — such as meerkats — may be particularly susceptible to these changes. However, there is little research on the impacts of climate change on disease in social animals.

Maria Paniw collaborated with members of the Kalahari Meerkat Project and used 22 years of detailed growth and life-history data from more than 2,600 meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the Kalahari to understand how climate factors can interact with the effects of tuberculosis — an endemic and widespread fatal disease, which can be one of the main causes of group collapse in the species. Modelling approaches were used to understand links between clinical cases of tuberculosis as a function of climate and social factors. The authors reveal that higher temperature extremes increase the risk of outbreaks by increasing both physiological stress, as well as the movement of males who are important carriers of tuberculosis.

Incorporating these disease effects into future population projections more than doubles the risk of group extinction in 12 years, highlighting the importance of considering the impact of climate–disease interactions on animal population dynamics.


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