Can Horton hear the whos? The importance of scale in mosquito-borne disease

J Med Entomol. 2014 Mar;51(2):297-313. doi: 10.1603/me11168.


The epidemiology of vector-borne pathogens is determined by mechanisms and interactions at different scales of biological organization, from individual-level cellular processes to community interactions between species and with the environment. Most research, however, focuses on one scale or level with little integration between scales or levels within scales. Understanding the interactions between levels and how they influence our perception of vector-borne pathogens is critical. Here two examples of biological scales (pathogen transmission and mosquito mortality) are presented to illustrate some of the issues of scale and to explore how processes on different levels may interact to influence mosquito-borne pathogen transmission cycles. Individual variation in survival, vector competence, and other traits affect population abundance, transmission potential, and community structure. Community structure affects interactions between individuals such as competition and predation, and thus influences the individual-level dynamics and transmission potential. Modeling is a valuable tool to assess interactions between scales and how processes at different levels can affect transmission dynamics. We expand an existing model to illustrate the types of studies needed, showing that individual-level variation in viral dose acquired or needed for infection can influence the number of infectious vectors. It is critical that interactions within and among biological scales and levels of biological organization are understood for greater understanding of pathogen transmission with the ultimate goal of improving control of vector-borne pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Culicidae*
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors*