Metacommunity and phylogenetic structure determine wildlife and zoonotic infectious disease patterns in time and space

Ecol Evol. 2015 Feb;5(4):865-73. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1404. Epub 2015 Jan 23.


The potential for disease transmission at the interface of wildlife, domestic animals and humans has become a major concern for public health and conservation biology. Research in this subject is commonly conducted at local scales while the regional context is neglected. We argue that prevalence of infection at local and regional levels is influenced by three mechanisms occurring at the landscape level in a metacommunity context. First, (1) dispersal, colonization, and extinction of pathogens, reservoir or vector hosts, and nonreservoir hosts, may be due to stochastic and niche-based processes, thus determining distribution of all species, and then their potential interactions, across local communities (metacommunity structure). Second, (2) anthropogenic processes may drive environmental filtering of hosts, nonhosts, and pathogens. Finally, (3) phylogenetic diversity relative to reservoir or vector host(s), within and between local communities may facilitate pathogen persistence and circulation. Using a metacommunity approach, public heath scientists may better evaluate the factors that predispose certain times and places for the origin and emergence of infectious diseases. The multidisciplinary approach we describe fits within a comprehensive One Health and Ecohealth framework addressing zoonotic infectious disease outbreaks and their relationship to their hosts, other animals, humans, and the environment.

Keywords: Disease ecology; One Health; dispersal; evolution; metacommunity; phylogenetic structure; stochastic event.