Infectious disease in animal metapopulations: the importance of environmental transmission.


Motivated by an array of infectious diseases that threaten wildlife populations, a simple metapopulation model (subpopulations connected by animal movement) is developed, which allows for both movement-based and environmental transmission. The model demonstrates that for a range of plausible parameterizations of environmental transmission, increased movement rate of animals between discrete habitats can lead to a decrease in the overall proportion of sites that are occupied. This can limit the ability of the rescue effect to ensure locally extinct populations become recolonized and can drive metapopulations down in size so that extinction by mechanisms other than disease may become more likely. It further highlights that, in the context of environmental transmission, the environmental persistence time of pathogens and the probability of acquiring infection by environmental transmission can affect host metapopulations both qualitatively and quantitatively. Additional spillover sources of infection from alternate reservoir hosts are also included in the model and a synthesis of all three types of transmission, acting alone or in combination, is performed revealing that movement-based transmission is the only necessary condition for a decline in the proportion of occupied sites with increasing movement rate, but that the presence of other types of transmission can reverse this qualitative result. By including the previously neglected role of environmental transmission, this work contributes to the general discussion of when dispersal by wild animals is beneficial or detrimental to populations experiencing infectious disease.

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