Most vector-borne diseases infect multiple host species, but disentangling the relative importance of different host species to transmission can be complex. Here we study how host species' abundance and competence (duration and titre of parasitaemia) influence host importance during epidemic scenarios. We evaluate this theory using Ross River virus (RRV, family Togaviridae, genus Alphavirus), a multi-host mosquito-borne disease with significant human health impacts across Australia and Papua New Guinea. We used host contribution models to find the importance of key hosts (possums, wallabies, kangaroos, horses, humans) in typical mammal communities around five Australian epidemic centres. We found humans and possums contributed most to epidemic RRV transmission, owing to their high abundances, generally followed by macropods. This supports humans as spillover hosts, and that human-mosquito and possum-mosquito transmission is predominant during epidemics. Sensitivity analyses indicate these findings to be robust across epidemic centres. We emphasize the importance of considering abundance and competence in identifying key hosts (during epidemics in this case), and that competence alone is inadequate. Knowledge of host importance in disease transmission may help to equip health agencies to bring about greater effectiveness of disease mitigation strategies.
Keywords: Arboviruses; transmission; vector-borne disease; vectors.