Measuring spatial co-occurrences of species potentially involved in Leishmania transmission cycles through a predictive and fieldwork approach

A CDC Miniature Light Trap used in the fieldwork for López et al. 2021. Photo provided by Juliana Hoyos.

The Leishmaniases are a group of neglected tropical diseases caused by different species of the protozoan parasite Leishmania, transmitted to its mammalian hosts by the bites of several species of female Phlebotominae sand flies. Many factors have contributed to shifts in the disease distribution and eco epidemiological outcomes, resulting in the emergence of Cutaneous Leishmaniasis outbreaks and the incrimination of vectors in unreported regions. New research development is vital for establishing the new paradigms of the present transmission cycles, hoping to facilitate new control strategies to reduce parasite transmission. Hereafter, this work aims to model and infer the current transmission cycles of Cutaneous Leishmaniasis in Colombia defined by vector and mammal species distributed and interacting in the different regions and validate them by performing sand fly and mammal collections. Vector-host co-occurrences were computed considering five ecoregions of the Colombian territory defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and downloaded from The Nature Conservancy TNC Maps website. Four validation sites were selected based on Cutaneous Leishmaniasis prevalence reports. Sand flies and mammals captured in the field were processed, and species were defined using conventional taxonomic guidelines. Detection of infection by Leishmania was performed to identify transmission cycles in the selected areas. This study uses predictive models based on available information from international gazetteers and fieldwork to confirm sand fly and mammalian species’ sustaining Leishmania transmission cycles. Our results show an uneven distribution of mammal samples in Colombia, possibly due to sampling bias, since only two departments contributed 50% of the available samples. Bats were the vertebrates with the highest score values, suggesting substantial spatial overlap with sand flies than the rest of the vertebrates evaluated. Fieldwork allowed identifying three circulating Leishmania species, isolated from three sand fly species. In the Montane Forest ecosystem, one small marsupial, Gracilinanus marica, was found infected with Leishmania panamensis, constituting the first record of this species infected with Leishmania. In the same locality, an infected sand fly, Pintomyia pia, was found. The overall results could support the understanding of the current transmission cycles of Leishmaniasis in Colombia.

López, M., Erazo, D., Hoyos, Jet al. Measuring spatial co-occurrences of species potentially involved in Leishmania transmission cycles through a predictive and fieldwork approach. Sci Rep 11, 6789 (2021).