Plant invasions can have major ecological impacts on the systems they colonise, and these impacts can be indirect, mediated through the interactions between resident species and invasive plants. In Sao Paulo State, Brazil, there are multiple invasive plant species that can provide food and habitat for the world’s largest rodent, the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). As a result, the presence of invasive plants in a landscape could have an impact on the spatial distribution and prevalence of capybara. This potential effect is important, because capybara are an important reservoir for bacteria (Rickettsia), which cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in people when they are bitten by disease vectors (ticks). Thus, invasive plants may indirectly increase human health risks in invaded landscapes. However, the strength of these links between plants, capybara and disease-carrying ticks remain unexplored.
This project will explore and quantify the strength of evidence for proposed interactions within this plant-mammal-disease vector system, using a combination of camera trap surveys, habitat surveys and experiments to assess tick habitat preference, and modelling of invasive plant species distributions in São Paulo State, Brazil. This PhD project will feed into a collaborative project involving ecologists at Durham University, the University of São Paulo, and the Federal University of São Carlos.