Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
The increasing frequency of zoonotic disease events underscores a need to develop forecasting tools toward a more preemptive approach to outbreak investigation. We apply machine learning to data describing the traits and zoonotic pathogen diversity of the most speciose group of mammals, the rodents, which also comprise a disproportionate number of zoonotic disease reservoirs. Our models predict reservoir status in this group with over 90% accuracy, identifying species with high probabilities of harboring undiscovered zoonotic pathogens based on trait profiles that may serve as rules of thumb to distinguish reservoirs from nonreservoir species. Key predictors of zoonotic reservoirs include biogeographical properties, such as range size, as well as intrinsic host traits associated with lifetime reproductive output. Predicted hotspots of novel rodent reservoir diversity occur in the Middle East and Central Asia and the Midwestern United States.