The emergence of sarcoptic mange in Australian wildlife: an unresolved debate

Tamieka A. Fraser1,2*, Michael Charleston1,3, Alynn Martin1, Adam Polkinghorne2 and Scott Carver1

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay 7001, TAS, Australia
2Centre for Animal Health Innovation, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, 91 Sippy Downs Drive, Sippy Downs 4556, QLD, Australia
School of Information Technologies, University of Sydney, Camperdown 2006, Sydney, Australia

Due to its suspected increase in host range and subsequent global diversification, Sarcoptes scabiei has important implications at a global scale for wildlife conservation and animal and human health. The introduction of this pathogen into new locations and hosts has been shown to produce high morbidity and mortality, a situation observed recently in Australian and North American wildlife.

Of the seven native animal species in Australia known to be infested by
S. scabiei, the bare-nosed wombat (Vombatus ursinus) suffers the greatest with significant population declines having been observed in New South Wales and Tasmania. The origins of sarcoptic mange in Australian native animals are poorly understood, with the most consistent conclusion being that mange was introduced by settlers and their dogs and subsequently becoming a major burden to native wildlife. Four studies exist addressing the origins of mange in Australia, but all Australian S. scabiei samples derive from only two of these studies. This review highlights this paucity of phylogenetic knowledge of S. scabiei within Australia, and suggests further research is needed to confidently determine the origin, or multiple origins, of this parasite.

At the global scale, numerous genetic studies have attempted to reveal how the host species and host geographic location influence
S. scabiei phylogenetics. This review includes an analysis of the global literature, revealing that inconsistent use of gene loci across studies significantly influences phylogenetic inference. Furthermore, by performing a contemporary analytical approach on existing data, it is apparent that (i) new S. scabiei samples, (ii) appropriate gene loci targets, and (iii) advanced phylogenetic approaches are necessary to more confidently comprehend the origins of mange in Australia. Advancing this field of research will aid in understanding the mechanisms of spillover for mange and other parasites globally.