Landscape disturbance impacts on Attalea butyracea palm distribution in central Panama

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Background: Increased Attalea butyracea palm propagation, notable for its role as key habitat for the primary Chagas disease vector in Panama, has been linked to landscape disturbance in single-palm observations in this region. Close proximity of these palms to human dwellings is proposed to increase risk of Chagas disease transmission from sylvatic transmission cycles to domestic transmission involving human populations. This study examines the relationship between landscape disturbance and mature A. butyracea spatial distribution, density, and proximity to human populations and vector and reservoir species’ movement corridors at a regional scale in a 300 km2 heterogeneous tropical landscape in central Panama. Methods: We remotely identified the locations of over 50,000 mature A. butyracea palms using high-resolution WorldView2 satellite imagery. A local Getis-Ord Gi* spatial analysis identified significant clusters of aggregated palms. Associations between palm and cluster abundance and a landscape disturbance gradient, derived from official Panama land cover data, were tested using Chi-square tests for Homogeneity and Z-test for proportions. Kruskall-Wallis non-parametric analysis of variance tests were run to assess whether palm cluster area varied by disturbance level, or whether disturbance was associated with proximity of palms and palm clusters to susceptible populations or vector movement corridors. Results: Our findings indicate a regional relationship between landscape disturbance and A. butyracea occurrence. We observe a significant increase in both individual and clustered A. butyracea in secondary forest, but a reduction of palms in agricultural settings. We do not detect evidence of any reduction in abundance of palms in residential settings. The majority of residential and commercial buildings in our study area are within vector flight distance of potential vector habitat in palm crowns. Conclusions: We observe probable anthropogenic elimination of A. butyracea palms in agricultural, but not residential, settings. Even in heavily deforested regions, significant concentrations of mature palms remain in close proximity to human establishments.




Mertzlufft, C. E., Madden, M., Gottdenker, N. L., Velásquez Runk, J., Saldaña, A., Tanner, S., … Yao, X. (2020). Landscape disturbance impacts on Attalea butyracea palm distribution in central Panama. International Journal of Health Geographics, 19(1).

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