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The curse of the prey: Sarcoptes mite molecular analysis reveals potential prey-to-predator parasitic infestation in wild animals from Masai Mara, Kenya

Francis Gakuya1, Luca Rossi2, Jackson Ombui3, Ndichu Maingi4, Gerald Muchemi3, William Ogara3, Ramón C Soriguer5 and Samer Alasaad256*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Veterinary and Capture Services, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya

2 Dipartimento di Produzioni Animali, Epidemiologia ed Ecologia, Università degli Studi di Torino, Via Leonardo da Vinci 44, I-10095, Grugliasco, Italy

3 Department of Public Health, Pharmacology & Toxicology, University of Nairobi, Kenya

4 Department of Pathology and Microbiology, University of Nairobi, Kenya

5 Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Avda. Américo Vespucio s/n 41092 Sevilla, Spain

6 Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies (IEU), University of Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland

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Parasites & Vectors 2011, 4:193  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-4-193

Published: 6 October 2011



Recently, there have been attempts to understand the molecular epidemiology of Sarcoptes scabiei, to evaluate the gene flow between isolates of S. scabiei from different hosts and geographic regions. However, to our knowledge, a molecular study has not been carried out to assess the molecular diversity and gene flow of Sarcoptes mite in a predator/prey ecosystem.


Our study revealed an absence of gene flow between the two herbivore (Thomson's gazelle and wildebeest)- and between the two carnivore (lion and cheetah)-derived Sarcoptes populations from Masai Mara (Kenya), which is in discrepancy with the host-taxon law described for wild animals in Europe. Lion- and wildebeest-derived Sarcoptes mite populations were similar yet different from the Thomson's gazelle-derived Sarcoptes population. This could be attributed to Sarcoptes cross-infestation from wildebeest ("favourite prey") of the lion, but not from Thomson's gazelle. The cheetah-derived Sarcoptes population had different subpopulations: one is cheetah-private, one similar to the wildebeest- and lion-derived Sarcoptes populations, and another similar to the Thomson's gazelle-derived Sarcoptes mite population, where both wildebeest and Thomson's gazelle are "favourite preys" for the cheetah.


In a predator/prey ecosystem, like Masai Mara in Kenya, it seems that Sarcoptes infestation in wild animals is prey-to-predator-wise, depending on the predator's "favourite prey". More studies on the lion and cheetah diet and behaviour could be of great help to clarify the addressed hypotheses. This study could have further ramification in the epidemiological studies and the monitoring protocols of the neglected Sarcoptes mite in predator/prey ecosystems.

Sarcoptes scabiei; microsatellites; genetic structure; gene flow; cheetah; lion; wildebeest; Thomson's gazelle; favourite prey