Coastal development and precipitation drive pathogen flow from land to sea: evidence from a Toxoplasma gondii and felid host system
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1038/srep29252
Rapidly developing coastal regions face consequences of land use and climate change including flooding and increased sediment, nutrient, and chemical runoff, but these forces may also enhance pathogen runoff, which threatens human, animal, and ecosystem health. Using the zoonotic parasite Toxoplasma gondii in California, USA as a model for coastal pathogen pollution, we examine the spatial distribution of parasite runoff and the impacts of precipitation and development on projected pathogen delivery to the ocean. Oocysts, the extremely hardy free-living environmental stage of T. gondii shed in faeces of domestic and wild felids, are carried to the ocean by freshwater runoff. Linking spatial pathogen loading and transport models, we show that watersheds with the highest levels of oocyst runoff align closely with regions of increased sentinel marine mammal T. gondii infection. These watersheds are characterized by higher levels of coastal development and larger domestic cat populations. Increases in coastal development and precipitation independently raised oocyst delivery to the ocean (average increases of 44% and 79%, respectively), but dramatically increased parasite runoff when combined (175% average increase). Anthropogenic changes in landscapes and climate can accelerate runoff of diverse pathogens from terrestrial to aquatic environments, influencing transmission to people, domestic animals, and wildlife.