Ecosystem dynamics, biological diversity and emerging infectious diseases

C R Biol. 2011 May;334(5-6):385-92. doi: 10.1016/j.crvi.2011.02.008. Epub 2011 Apr 30.


In this article, we summarize the major scientific developments of the last decade on the transmission of infectious agents in multi-host systems. Almost sixty percent of the pathogens that have emerged in humans during the last 30-40 years are of animal origin and about sixty percent of them show an important variety of host species besides humans (3 or more possible host species). In this review, we focus on zoonotic infections with vector-borne transmission and dissect the contrasting effects that a multiplicity of host reservoirs and vectors can have on their disease dynamics. We discuss the effects exerted by host and vector species richness and composition on pathogen prevalence (i.e., reduction, including the dilution effect, or amplification). We emphasize that, in multiple host systems and for vector-borne zoonotic pathogens, host reservoir species and vector species can exert contrasting effect locally. The outcome on disease dynamics (reduced pathogen prevalence in vectors when the host reservoir species is rich and increased pathogen prevalence when the vector species richness increases) may be highly heterogeneous in both space and time. We then ask briefly how a shift towards a more systemic perspective in the study of emerging infectious diseases, which are driven by a multiplicity of hosts, may stimulate further research developments. Finally, we propose some research avenues that take better into account the multi-host species reality in the transmission of the most important emerging infectious diseases, and, particularly, suggest, as a possible orientation, the careful assessment of the life-history characteristics of hosts and vectors in a community ecology-based perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / microbiology*
  • Disease Vectors
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Parasites
  • Zoonoses / microbiology