New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2006) 30(1): 147- 148

The importance of environmental spatial heterogeneity and host social structure in disease transmission

Conference Abstract
Mark Bulling 1,*
Weihong Ji 2
Piran C. L. White 1
Nigel Barlow  
Mick N. Clout 3
  1. Environment Department, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, England
  2. Ecology and Conservation Institute of Natural Resources, Building 5, Gate 4, Albany Campus, Massey University, Auckland, N.Z.
  3. School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, PB 92019, Auckland, N.Z.
*  Corresponding author

[First paragraph]
The spatial structure of a host population determines the spatial probability distribution of interaction between individuals, and therefore influences the spatio-temporal dynamics of disease transmission within the host population (Keeling, 1999; Gudelj and White, 2004). Nigel Barlow recognised this and included non-linear transmission in his later models (Barlow, 1991), simulating the result of spatial heterogeneity of risk in susceptible hosts. These models produced behaviour that could not be found in models with homogeneously mixed host populations: more rapid disease dynamics and a greater robustness of disease to control measures. However, in this model there was no causal mechanism driving the initial spatial heterogeneity of risk in host individuals. Environmental heterogeneity is likely to be a key factor in determining the spatial distribution of host individuals (Cronin and Reeve, 2005). We attempted to explore how environmental heterogeneity may affect disease dynamics via its influence on the spatial distribution of host individuals. We developed a spatially explicit stochastic model that incorporated spatially variable host density distributions, primarily driven by environmental heterogeneity.