The evolutionary dynamics of canid and mongoose rabies virus in southern Africa

Davis PL, Rambaut A, Bourhy H & Holmes EC

(2007) Archives in Virology 152, 1251-1258.

Two variants of rabies virus (RABV) currently circulate in southern Africa: canid RABV, mainly associated with dogs, jackals, and bat-eared foxes, and mongoose RABV. To investigate the evolutionary dynamics of these variants, we performed coalescent-based analyses of the G-L inter-genic region, allowing for rate variation among viral lineages through the use of a relaxed molecular clock. This revealed that mongoose RABV is evolving more slowly than canid RABV, with mean evolutionary rates of 0.826 and 1.676 x 10(-3) nucleotide substitutions per site, per year, respectively. Additionally, mongoose RABV exhibits older genetic diversity than canid RABV, with common ancestors dating to 73 and 30 years, respectively, and while mongoose RABV has experienced exponential population growth over its evolutionary history in Africa, populations of canid RABV have maintained a constant size. Hence, despite circulating in the same geographic region, these two variants of RABV exhibit striking differences in evolutionary dynamics which are likely to reflect differences in their underlying ecology.

Andrew Rambaut, 2007