Banded mongoose

Banded mongoose
Two mongoose take an afternoon nap. This highly social species is threatened by a novel tuberculosis pathogen.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Welcome Kelton Verble - New Masters Student in the Alexander Lab

Kelton's Bio
My research interests include wildlife conservation genetics, disease ecology, and population dynamic assessments. I earned my B.S. in Wildlife from Purdue University in May of 2016. As an undergraduate, I provided assistance for various research projects that introduced me to genetic analysis and disease surveillance techniques.

For the current project, I will be using microsatellite genotyping together with observational data to determine inbreeding, relatedness within and between banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) troops. I will also be estimating troop dispersal and fusion/fission events across a diverse landscape. The resulting outputs will be incorporated into infectious disease transmission models dealing with a novel, emerging tuberculosis pathogen (Mycobacterium mungi) infecting banded mongoose in Botswana.

Banded mongoose tracking continues. Troop movements have been very diverse and intriguing. This is one of the driest and hottest seasons we have had for decades. Understanding how mongoose move and behave under extreme weather events will provide insight into the impacts of future climate change. Of interest is the manner in which human provisioning influences space use and intergroup contact.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Mongoose news!

The Alexander lab research team has had their hands full the past few months, setting camera traps, finding new troops and fitting mongoose with ear tags for individual identification.
            We recently acquired a number of Reconyx UltraFire trail cameras, which we are all very excited about putting to use. These cameras will allow us to supplement our growing collection of trail camera photos with 1080p high definition video of mongoose behaviors and interactions at den sites. In addition to providing us with valuable data for our research, these things are just really cool and we are looking forward to sharing some videos with our followers.
            One of the things our research is aimed at helping us understand is how contact between individuals and the patterns of association within troops can influence infection probabilities and the risk of disease transmission. Answering this question requires us to intensively monitor and record the behaviors of mongoose in select troops. Because there are few observable physical differences between mongoose, we have recently begun using small brightly colored eartags in order to accurately identify individuals. These temporary tags are an important part of our study and will allow us to monitor interactions and group dynamics, identify the individuals who may be most susceptible to disease, and continually monitor the health status of mongoose throughout the year. So far we have fitted fifteen mongoose with these tags and we hope to fit about 45 more in the next few months.
            During the next week, we will be spending quite a bit of time in Chobe National Park while attempting to place VHF collars on additional troops. In the past, capturing individuals from park troops has proven to be quite a bit more difficult than trapping habituated town troops, but having trackable park troops is essential in order for us to understand how proximity to human communities and anthropogenic food sources may alter behavior and thus pathogen transmission.
            Hopefully we will return next week successful in our trapping efforts and with more mongoose media to share. Keep checking back with us for more updates on the project! We also have a new mongoose project email address, so if you have any questions about our work on banded mongoose feel free to send them to !

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Tuberculosis in mongoose driven by social behaviors

Tuberculosis in mongoose driven by social behaviors: Mongoose use urine and anal gland secretions to communicate with other members of their species. However, in the mongoose, secretions from sick animals were found to be infected with the TB pathogen.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

New Tricks

The ongoing NSF Ecology and Evolution of  Infectious Diseases funded study on the banded mongoose of the Chobe region has kicked into high gear in 2016. Daily troop tracking and monitoring continues as usual, along with the capture and collaring of members from as yet unidentified troops, but the team at Virginia Tech's Alexander Research Group has some powerful new tools at their disposal to aid in the behavioral analysis of these fascinating creatures. Sophisticated behavioral analysis software to capture and analyse the data derived from recorded behavior patterns is one of these, but this is useless without a way of gathering this data in the first place.

Another powerful tool, and one that will help to solve the problem of gathering this data, takes the form of camera traps positioned around den sites. These grant a rare and valuable insight into the daily lives and activities of banded mongoose, unsullied by the proximity of researches. It enables us to monitor and record group behavior in a way never quite possible before: to gauge troop size and composition, to assess the health of the troop as a whole, and then to assess the progression of M. mungi any sick individuals. We can even monitor interactions with the other species these animals live amongst, including people.

All told, these techniques will allow our researchers in the field to gain a newer and fuller understanding of the troops that are part of our study, and, what's more, to do so without having to be physically present. This will not only save a lot of time, but will prevent observers from disrupting or affecting the scenes, behaviors or interactions that will come to form such a crucial part of this project.

Below is one of the thousands of images so far captured by our trail-cams. These pictures offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of these animals as they forage, groom each other, keep watch (as the troop members are doing in this particular image – they're cooperating to keep tabs on all approaches to their den-site, which is just out of frame) and even play. It's amazing to think that images like these, taken together, will allow our team to gain a better understanding of the social dynamics of these animals and, ultimately, the way these dynamics offer pathogens like M. mungi the opportunity to spread.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Banded Mongoose Disease Ecology

Banded mongoose are highly social animals that spend each and every moment of their lives with their troop. Their group dynamics, activities and interactions are a key determinant in the success of the troop as a whole, particularly in terms of security, territory establishment, marking, and maintenance, feeding, and grooming.

In terms of the present study, though, these group dynamics are interesting for precisely the opposite reason. The novel strain of tuberculosis (M. mungi) identified by Dr Alexander and her team at Virginia Tech's Alexander Lab actually seems to be making use of the social interactions of banded mongoose troops in the Chobe region in order to spread.

This kind of "piggybacking" is not unique to banded mongoose or tuberculosis, and yet the the presence and prevalence of this disease does present Dr Alexander and her team with the opportunity not only to investigate the mechanisms behind the transmission of this specific infection in these populations, but also to make some broader observations as to the manner in which diseases like this one affect the viability of social animals.

By monitoring the social behaviors and interactions of troops along the Chobe riverfront, Dr Alexander and her co-investigators hope to gain an insight into the manner in which this strain of TB is transmitted. Social interactions are carefully monitored and recorded, numbers are monitored, and visibly infected individuals counted and observed.

Groups typically range between ten and thirty individuals, and one of the objectives of this study is to determine the point at which a group is no longer viable. This phenomenon, known as the allee effect, is the product of the relationship between individual fitness and group numbers or population density, and understanding the way this works in banded mongoose populations will potentially have much broader implications as it relates to other social species.

The group pictured here is one of  the troops that is currently being monitored. There are a number of visibly infected individuals in this troop, and yet group as a whole is large and apparently healthy. Their social interactions are plain for all to see as they forage, groom each other, and sleep in the sun together, all the while keeping a watchful eye out for predators and other threats. The infected individuals in this otherwise quite idyllic scene offer a stark reminder that all is not well here.

Monday, 31 August 2015

African Wildlife May Be Acquiring Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria From Nearby Humans | Smart News | Smithsonian

African Wildlife May Be Acquiring Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria From Nearby Humans | Smart News | Smithsonian

Our research indicates that antibiotic resistance is a growing problem even in remote regions of the world. This work was done as part of an NSF CNH funded project.

This builds on our earlier work investigating the movement of microorganisms between mongoose and humans. Data suggest it is common  - as was antibiotic resistance.

Pesapane, Ponder, Alexander - 2013

Tracking pathogen transmission at the human-wildlife interface: banded mongoose and Escherichia coli. - Ecohealth