We assessed risk factors for Toxoplasma gondii exposure in semiaquatic mammals in east-central Illinois, US. This agricultural region has extensive drainage systems that could potentially transport T. gondii oocysts into the watershed. We used muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) and American mink (Neovison vison) as sentinels of watershed contamination. We predicted individuals from larger subwatersheds would more likely be antibody-positive for T. gondii, as they were exposed to drainage from larger areas. We also evaluated amount of urban land cover within the subwatershed, proximity to farmsteads, and age of individuals in competing models of T. gondii infection. Antibodies to T. gondii were assayed in animal sera by modified agglutination tests (titer 25 or higher) and detected in 18 (60%) of 30 muskrats and 20 (77%) of 26 mink. Infection rates were ≥1.7 times higher than those typical for mammals in upland habitats in this region. Subwatershed size and age class were important predictors of T. gondii infection in muskrats (R2 = 0.35). Models incorporating urban land cover and proximity to farmsteads had little support. None of our models of antibody prevalence in mink were well supported, possibly because mink are less strictly associated with riparian habitats. Because ~91% of our study area is devoted to agricultural production and urbanization, transport of T. gondii into freshwater ecosystems is likely facilitated by modified drainage practices common in these areas.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2