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Detection of viruses using discarded plants from wild mountain gorillas and golden monkeys

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Infectious diseases pose one of the most significant threats to the survival of great apes in the wild. The critically endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is at high risk for contracting human pathogens because approximately 60% of the population is habituated to humans to support a thriving ecotourism program. Disease surveillance for human and non-human primate pathogens is important for population health and management of protected primate species. Here, we evaluate discarded plants from mountain gorillas and sympatric golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), as a novel biological sample to detect viruses that are shed orally. Discarded plant samples were tested for the presence of mammalian-specific genetic material and two ubiquitous DNA and RNA primate viruses, herpesviruses, and simian foamy virus. We collected discarded plant samples from 383 wild human-habituated mountain gorillas and from 18 habituated golden monkeys. Mammalian-specific genetic material was recovered from all plant species and portions of plant bitten or chewed by gorillas and golden monkeys. Gorilla herpesviral DNA was most consistently recovered from plants in which leafy portions were eaten by gorillas. Simian foamy virus nucleic acid was recovered from plants discarded by golden monkeys, indicating that it is also possible to detect RNA viruses from bitten or chewed plants. Our findings show that discarded plants are a useful non-invasive sampling method for detection of viruses that are shed orally in mountain gorillas, sympatric golden monkeys, and potentially other species. This method of collecting specimens from discarded plants is a new non-invasive sampling protocol that can be combined with collection of feces and urine to evaluate the most common routes of viral shedding in wild primates. Am. J. Primatol. 78:1222-1234, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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