Modelling transmission of vector-borne pathogens shows complex dynamics when vector feeding sites are limited

Arik Kershenbaum, Lewi Stone, Richard S. Ostfeld, Leon Blaustein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between species richness and the prevalence of vector-borne disease has been widely studied with a range of outcomes. Increasing the number of host species for a pathogen may decrease infection prevalence (dilution effect), increase it (amplification), or have no effect. We derive a general model, and a specific implementation, which show that when the number of vector feeding sites on each host is limiting, the effects on pathogen dynamics of host population size are more complex than previously thought. The model examines vector-borne disease in the presence of different host species that are either competent or incompetent (i.e. that cannot transmit the pathogen to vectors) as reservoirs for the pathogen. With a single host species present, the basic reproduction ratio R0 is a non-monotonic function of the population size of host individuals (H), i.e. a value Ĥ exists that maximises R0. Surprisingly, if H > Ĥ a reduction in host population size may actually increase R0. Extending this model to a two-host species system, incompetent individuals from the second host species can alter the value of Ĥ which may reverse the effect on pathogen prevalence of host population reduction. We argue that when vector-feeding sites on hosts are limiting, the net effect of increasing host diversity might not be correctly predicted using simple frequency-dependent epidemiological models.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere36730
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 8 May 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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