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The spread of pathogens in social networks: a field study


In recent years, there have been a growing number of attempts to study wildlife diseases from an ecological perspective and to understand their dynamics and evolution in wild populations. But although there is now an increasing awareness of the impact of disease pathogens on the dynamics, structure and genetic diversity of wild host populations, empirical knowledge of the factors affecting transmission of pathogens in natural host populations is still lacking. The vast majority of theoretical models of disease evolution assume that all individual hosts have an equal likelihood of encountering infection. In many natural populations, this assumption is unrealistic because the number of potential contacts of a given host is finite, which leads to heterogeneity in the risk of infection among individuals. To date, most studies of disease transmission in social networks have focused on human populations, where complete and reliable social network data are difficult to obtain. As a consequence, current knowledge on the spread of pathogens within social networks mostly comes from theoretical models. Good datasets associating social network structure, spatial information and epidemiological data are now needed. Here I propose a multidisciplinary project aimed at the transmission routes of pathogens in populations of two model species of territorial hole-nesting birds. the project has the double aim of testing the extent to which social interactions among individuals affect the transmission of pathogens, and of using social network data to acquire knowledge on when and where individuals get infected by pathogens. We will focus on two kinds of pathogens. First, we will apply these questions to bacterial communities living in and on birds. Second, we will also focus on avian malarial parasites (genus Plasmodium), which are particularly well characterized at the study site.

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Wellington square university offices
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Gill Wells (Ms.)
EU contribution
No data