Aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages of Ghana, West Africa: Understanding the ecology of a neglected tropical disease
Buruli ulcer (BU) is an emerging, but neglected tropical disease, where there has been a reported association with disturbed aquatic habitats and proposed aquatic macroinvertebrate vectors such as biting Hemiptera. An initial step in understanding the potential role of macroinvertebrates in the ecology of BU is to better understand the entire community, not just one or two taxa, in relation to the pathogen, Mycobacterium ulcerans, at a large spatial scale. For the first time at a country-wide scale this research documents that M. ulcerans was frequently detected from environmental samples taken from BU endemic regions, but was not present in 30 waterbodies of a non-endemic region. There were significant differences in macroinvertebrate community structure and identified potential indicator taxa in relation to pathogen presence. These results suggest that specific macroinvertebrate taxa or functional metrics may potentially be used as aquatic biological indicators of M. ulcerans. Developing ecological indicators of this pathogen is a first step for understanding the disease ecology of BU and should assist future studies of transmission.