Between January 1995 and November 1997, longitudinal mark-recapture studies of rodent hosts of hantaviruses in a disturbed microhabitat within a shortgrass prairie ecosystem in southeastern Colorado (USA) were conducted. The site was distinguished by edaphic and floristic characteristics unique to this area and associated with historical land use patterns, as well as the year-around availability of water from a functioning windmill. Populations of two common rodent species that are hosts for hantaviruses, Peromyscus maniculatus and Reithrodontomys megalotis, had unusually rapid turnover, a younger age structure, and a much lower prevalence of antibody to Sin Nombre virus than did populations at nearby sites in more typical shortgrass prairie and canyon habitats. Based on these findings, we suggest that a stable resident population of the reservoir is critical to the maintenance of hantaviruses at a given site, and we hypothesize that long-lived, persistently infected rodents are the principal transseasonal reservoir of hantaviruses.
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