Ecology of Infectious Diseases

The Ecological Society of America is offering a free online collection of disease-ecology research, with scientists available for expert comment.


For Immediate Release: May 7, 2020

Contact: Heidi Swanson, 202.833.8773, ext. 211, gro.asenull@idieh

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has compiled a virtual collection of research related to the ecology of infectious diseases, and offers a list of scientific experts available for comment and to respond to questions and inquiries (see list below).

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that is responsible for the spread of COVID-19 seems likely to have originated in a wild animal species. Understanding the ecological processes that drive the emergence of zoonotic diseases spread between animals and people can improve our ability to predict and respond to future outbreaks. While the breadth and impacts of the current pandemic are unprecedented, scientists in recent decades have documented many other instances of animal diseases crossing species barriers, which can provide context for the current global challenge.


ESA Experts

The following ESA members have expertise in disease dynamics (or aspects of environmental change relevant to disease dynamics) and are available for comment. For help with other ESA disease experts, contact Alison Mize at gro.asenull@nosila.

Meghan Duffy
Professor, University of Michigan
Contact: ude.hcimunull@gemyffud 734-276-4369
Meghan Duffy studies the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. Research in her lab focuses on the factors that influence the dynamics of infectious disease outbreaks; much of her work focuses on multihost-multiparasite systems (that is, systems where parasites infect multiple hosts and hosts are infected by multiple parasites). Her research uses Daphnia, ecologically important crustaceans that live in lakes, and their parasites as a model system for understanding the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions.

Nina H. Fefferman
Professor, University of Tennessee
Contact: moc.liamgnull@namreffef.h.anin 781-710-5025
Fefferman’s research focuses on mathematical models to understand behavioral epidemiology, pandemic preparedness, the evolution of socially beneficial behaviors across taxa, the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, and complex adaptive systems. She has consulted in these areas for state and federal agencies and departments on threats including TB, Ebola, Zika virus, H1N1 2009, and many others, now including COVID-19.

David Inouye
Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland
Principal Investigator, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
Contact: ude.dmunull@eyuoni 970-260-6159
David Inouye is an ecologist with expertise in long-term studies, flowering phenology, pollination biology, hummingbirds, and Rocky Mountain wildflowers. He serves regularly on National Science Foundation review panels, is a Past-President of the Ecological Society of America, and is Board President of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. He has a letter in press (May 2020) in Science magazine about the effects of the pandemic on field research.

Shannon L. LaDeau
Associate Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Contact: 845-677-5343, ext. 204 gro.etutitsniyracnull@SUAEDAL
Shannon LaDeau is a disease ecologist who investigates how species interactions and environmental conditions influence the spread of pathogens. Current projects include work on how climate change regulates tick populations and Lyme disease, the ecology of mosquito vectors in complex urban risk-scapes, and viral transmission in wild fish-hatchery networks of the Pacific Northwest.

Karen Lips
Professor of Biology, University of Maryland College Park
Contact: ude.dmunull@spiLK 240-393-5397
Karen Lips is an ecologist whose research focuses on biodiversity and animal ecology, especially as they relate to global change (wildlife disease, invasive species, climate change, land-use change, wildlife trade) in the US and in Latin America. A primary focus of her research is determining the ecological and environmental factors that influence the response of amphibian species and populations to invasive disease, and how that information might be used in conservation and recovery plans. She is interested in how the loss of biodiversity affects natural and human systems, how human activities contribute to the spread of disease and loss of biodiversity, and how to improve sustainability of these systems. Lips is also interested in science diplomacy, higher education, public engagement with science, and scientific leadership.

Richard S. Ostfeld
Distinguished Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Contact: gro.etutitsniyracnull@rdleftso 845-757-5824
Richard Ostfeld is a disease ecologist who studies how climate change, land-use change, and biodiversity change affect risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases. He focuses on vector-borne diseases, especially those transmitted by ticks. Research by Ostfeld and his colleagues has demonstrated the widespread occurrence of the “dilution effect,” whereby disease risk increases with biodiversity loss.

Dianna K. Padilla
Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University
Contact: ude.koorbynotsnull@allidap.annaid 631-921-8739
Diane Padilla is a marine and freshwater ecologist and has expertise in invasion biology, ecology of exotic marine and freshwater species, as well as community and population ecology.

Rachel M. Penczykowski
Assistant Professor of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis
Contact: de.ltsuwnull@ikswokyzcnepr 314-935-8282
Rachel Penczykowski studies the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, with particular interests in effects of winter on host-parasite interactions, and the roles of parasites in food webs. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. Her lab primarily focuses on wild plant-pathogen interactions, which they study across environmental variation including latitudinal and urbanization gradients.

Raina Plowright
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Montana State University
Contact: ude.natnomnull@thgirwolp.aniar 406-579-5325
Raina Plowright is an assistant professor of epidemiology who studies pathogens that spill over from animals to people, the dynamics of zoonotic pathogens in wildlife populations, and pathogens that threaten wildlife conservation.

Dov Sax
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology & Environment and Society, Brown University
Contact: ude.nworbnull@xas_vod 401-426-7889
Dov Sax is a biogeographer and ecologist with broad expertise in species invasions, species responses to climate change, and species extinction. His work focuses on two primary areas: 1) the introduction, spread, and distribution of non-native species, with a special focus on the general insights these populations can provide to our understanding of ecology, and 2) the capacity of species to survive changes in climate within their historic ranges, their capacity to shift where they occur geographically in response to climate change, and an evaluation of new conservation strategies we might take to reduce species extinctions.

Don Waller
Professor (retired), University of Wisconsin-Madison
Contact: ude.csiwnull@rellawmd 608-698-6495
Don Waller trained as a population biologist and evolutionary ecologist at Amherst, Princeton, and Harvard. He researches population growth dynamics, life-history evolution, the dynamics and genetics of small populations, community assembly, and plant-animal interactions. He chairs the Science Advisory Council for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.


ESA Disease Ecology Collection

ESA’s research collection features relevant papers from across our peer-reviewed journals. The collection can be found here, or you can find individual titles below:

Globalization of human infectious disease
Katherine F. Smith, Dov F. Sax, Steven D. Gaines, Vanina Guernier, and Jean-François Guégan. 2002.
Infectious agents that use human hosts tend to be more globalized than those than using non-human hosts. Drivers of environmental change, such as exotic species introductions, are likely to exacerbate the establishment of new infectious diseases that can cross geographic and political boundaries.

Causal inference in disease ecology: investigating ecological drivers of disease emergence
Raina K. Plowright, Susanne H. Sokolow, Michael E. Gorman, Peter Daszak, and Janet E. Foley. 2008.
Identifying the potential causes of disease emergence requires cross-disciplinary collaboration and a combination of laboratory, field, modeling, and historical investigations. A case study of the Hendra virus (from fruit bats) in Australasia provides an example of how this inference approach can be applied.

Data–model fusion to better understand emerging pathogens and improve infectious disease forecasting
Shannon L. LaDeau, Gregory E. Glass, N. Thompson Hobbs, Andrew Latimer, and Richard S. Ostfeld. 2011.
In past epidemics, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, integrating new data with disease models in real-time has been one major obstacle to effective disease forecasting. A better understanding of the ecological dynamics of common zoonotic host and vector species (e.g. birds, mice, mosquitoes, ticks) would improve our ability to create effective models for diseases before they reach epidemic proportions.

An agent‐based movement model to assess the impact of landscape fragmentation on disease transmission
Jeff A. Tracey Sarah N. Bevins Sue VandeWoude, and Kevin R. Crooks. 2014.
Habitat fragmentation (e.g. from roads, urban development, agriculture, etc.) can restrict the movement of animal species that spread infectious diseases. A model of animal movement and infection transmission in a fragmented urban habitat shows that the effect of landscape fragmentation on disease transmission depends on animal hosts’ movement behavior.

The dynamics of avian influenza in Lesser Snow Geese: implications for annual and migratory infection patterns
Michael D. Samuel, Jeffrey S. Hall, Justin D. Brown, Diana R. Goldberg, Hon Ip, and Vasily V. Baranyuk. 2015.
Viruses that are spread by migratory species may present significant risks to human health, because complex migration patterns make it difficult to predict how and when hosts will be exposed to such viruses. Surveillance of avian influenza virus (via avian blood samples) in Russia, Canada, and the United States revealed broad variation over time in infection patterns. More widespread use of serology (blood) tests could improve the effectiveness of surveillance programs that monitor the ecology of disease outbreaks in wild bird populations.

Inferring seasonal infection risk at population and regional scales from serology samples
Mark Q. Wilber, Colleen T. Webb, Fred L. Cunningham, Kerri Pedersen, Xiu‐Feng Wan, and Kim M. Pepin. 2019.
Because infected disease hosts can recover or die from infections, it is difficult to determine when a disease is truly peaking in a population and to estimate the actual infection risk at any given time. This study offers a framework for combining serosurveillance (blood sampling) data with survival analysis to estimate seasonal infection risk in humans, wildlife, and livestock.


Other articles in the special issue include:

Biodiversity and the dilution effect in disease ecology
Kenneth A. Schmidt and Richard S. Ostfeld. 2001.

Modeling the effects of reservoir competence decay and demographic turnover in Lyme disease ecology
Eric M. Schauber and Richard S. Ostfeld. 2002.

Urban land use predicts West Nile virus exposure in songbirds
Catherine A. Bradley, Samantha E. J. Gibbs, and Sonia Altizer. 2008.

Rapid evolution, seasonality, and the termination of parasite epidemics
Meghan A. Duffy, Spencer R. Hall, Carla E. Cáceres, and Anthony R. Ives. 2009.

Climate change and the spread of infectious ideas
Kenneth Wilson. 2009.

Management of infectious wildlife diseases: bridging conventional and bioeconomic approaches
Eli P. Fenichel, Richard D. Horan, and Graham J. Hickling. 2010.

Female elk contacts are neither frequency nor density dependent
P. C. Cross, T. G. Creech, M. R. Ebinger, K. Manlove, K. Irvine, J. Henningsen, J. Rogerson, and B. M. Scurlock S. Creel. 2013.

Contacts and foot and mouth disease transmission from wild to domestic bovines in Africa
Eve Miguel, Vladimir Grosbois, Alexandre Caron, Thierry Boulinier, Hervé Fritz, Daniel Cornélis, Chris Foggin, Pious V. Makaya, Priscillia T. Tshabalala, and Michel de Garine-Wichatitsky. 2013.

Does biodiversity protect humans against infectious disease?
Chelsea L. Wood, Kevin D. Lafferty, Giulio DeLeo, Hillary S. Young, Peter J. Hudson, and Armand M. Kuris. 2014.

Environmental fluctuations lead to predictability in Sin Nombre hantavirus outbreaks
Angela D. Luis, Richard J. Douglass, James N. Mills, and Ottar N. Bjørnstad. 2015.

Spatial and temporal variation of hantavirus bank vole infection in managed forest landscapes
M. Magnusson, F. Ecke, H. Khalil, G. Olsson, M. Evander, B. Niklasson, and B. Hörnfeldt. 2015.

Habitat, predators, and hosts regulate disease in Daphnia through direct and indirect pathways
Alexander T. Strauss, Marta S. Shocket, David J. Civitello, Jessica L. Hite, Rachel M. Penczykowski, Meghan A. Duffy, Carla E. Cáceres, and Spencer R. Hall. 2016.

Testing epidemiological functional groups as predictors of avian haemosporidia patterns in southern Africa
Eléonore Hellard, Graeme S. Cumming, Alexandre Caron, Elizabeth Coe, and Jeffrey L. Peters. 2016.

How much effort is required to accurately describe the complex ecology of a rodent‐borne viral disease?
Richard J. Douglass and María Victoria Vadell. 2016.

Plague cycles in two rodent species from China: dry years might provide context for epizootics in wet years
David A. Eads, Dean E. Biggins, Lei Xu, and Qiyong Liu. 2016.

Is pathogen exposure spatially autocorrelated? Patterns of pathogens in puma (Puma concolor) and bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Marie L. J. Gilbertson, Scott Carver, Sue VandeWoude, Kevin R. Crooks, Michael R. Lappin, and Meggan E. Craft. 2016.

Quantifying dilution and amplification in a community of hosts for tick‐borne pathogens
Taal Levi, Felicia Keesing, Robert D. Holt, Michael Barfield, and Richard S. Ostfeld. 2016.

Is biodiversity bad for your health?
Richard S. Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing. 2017.

Can existing data on West Nile virus infection in birds and mosquitos explain strain replacement?
Morgan P. Kain and Benjamin M. Bolker. 2017.

Spatiotemporal modeling of ecological and sociological predictors of West Nile virus in Suffolk County, NY, mosquitoes
Mark H. Myer, Scott R. Campbell, and John M. Johnston. 2017.

The epidemiology of avian pox and interaction with avian malaria in Hawaiian forest birds
Michael D. Samuel, Bethany L. Woodworth, Carter T. Atkinson, Patrick J. Hart, and Dennis A. LaPointe. 2018.

Individual‐based model evaluation of using vaccinated hatchery fish to minimize disease spread in wild fish populations
Lori N. Ivan, Travis O. Brenden, Isaac F. Standish, and Mohamed Faisal. 2018.

Individual and temporal variation in pathogen load predicts long‐term impacts of an emerging infectious disease
Konstans Wells, Rodrigo K. Hamede, Menna E. Jones, Paul A. Hohenlohe, Andrew Storfer, and Hamish I. McCallum. 2019.

Effect of spatial scale and latitude on diversity–disease relationships
Magnus Magnusson, Ilya R. Fischhoff, Frauke Ecke, Birger Hörnfeldt, and Richard S. Ostfeld. 2019.


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