Does life history mediate changing disease risk when communities disassemble?

Ecol Lett. 2013 Nov;16(11):1405-12. doi: 10.1111/ele.12180. Epub 2013 Oct 8.


Biodiversity loss sometimes increases disease risk or parasite transmission in humans, wildlife and plants. Some have suggested that this pattern can emerge when host species that persist throughout community disassembly show high host competence - the ability to acquire and transmit infections. Here, we briefly assess the current empirical evidence for covariance between host competence and extirpation risk, and evaluate the consequences for disease dynamics in host communities undergoing disassembly. We find evidence for such covariance, but the mechanisms for and variability around this relationship have received limited consideration. This deficit could lead to spurious assumptions about how and why disease dynamics respond to community disassembly. Using a stochastic simulation model, we demonstrate that weak covariance between competence and extirpation risk may account for inconsistent effects of host diversity on disease risk that have been observed empirically. This model highlights the predictive utility of understanding the degree to which host competence relates to extirpation risk, and the need for a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying such relationships.

Keywords: Community disassembly; community ecology; dilution effect; extirpation; host competence; life history; mathematical model; pathogen transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Ecosystem
  • Humans
  • Population Dynamics
  • Risk Factors