Aim The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that the dispersal of sylvatic triatomines to anthropic habitats is stimulated by degradation of their natural habitat.
Location State of Espírito Santo, south-eastern Brazil.
Methods We georeferenced records of domiciliary captures of sylvatic triatomines (1996–2005) obtained from the database of the entomological surveillance programme of the Brazilian National Health Foundation. We partitioned the study area into 543 equal hexagons and attributed information on the presence/absence of triatomines and climatic, topographic and biological variables to each. Using generalized additive models (GAMs), we defined the determinant variables for triatomine presence/absence and demarcated the potential areas in which they might occur. We then subjected the hexagons with a high probability of triatomine presence to a second analysis, adding information on the number of domiciliary captures of triatomines and landscape indices that measured quantitative and spatial patterns of forest fragments. We used GAMs to determine the indices that influenced the number of domiciliary captures of triatomines.
Results The presence of triatomines was characterized by a strong positive correlation with variability of terrain slope. This variable was used to demarcate the areas where triatomines were likely to occur. Landscape indices associated with the number of domiciliary captures of triatomines were the number of patches, the fractal dimension index, the total core area and the clumpiness index.
Main conclusions Our results do not support the hypothesis that domiciliary invasion by sylvatic triatomines is stimulated by environmental degradation. Instead, the results suggest that less degraded areas maintain larger populations of triatomines and consequently present higher indices of dispersal and domiciliary invasion. Particular landscape patterns and dispositions of human dwellings, however, may enhance the probability of triatomines being attracted to the artificial light of dwellings. Initiation of flight and consequent dispersal is a naturally occurring process that allows triatomines to find and colonize areas that favour the survival of their offspring.