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Disease, habitat fragmentation and conservation.

by Hamish McCallum, Andy Dobson
Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society ()

Abstract

Habitat loss and the resultant fragmentation of remaining habitat is the primary cause of loss of biological diversity. How do these processes affect the dynamics of parasites and pathogens? Hess has provided some important insights into this problem using metapopulation models for pathogens that exhibit 'S-I' dynamics; for example, pathogens such as rabies in which the host population may be divided into susceptible and infected individuals. A major assumption of Hess's models is that infected patches become extinct, rather than recovering and becoming resistant to future infections. In this paper, we build upon this framework in two different ways: first, we examine the consequences of including patches that are resistant to infection; second, we examine the consequences of including a second species of host that can act as a reservoir for the pathogen. Both of these effects are likely to be important from a conservation perspective. The results of both sets of analysis indicate that the benefits of corridors and other connections that allow species to disperse through the landscape far outweigh the possible risks of increased pathogen transmission. Even in the commonest case, where harmful pathogens are maintained by a common reservoir host, increased landscape connectance still allows greater coexistence and persistence of a threatened or endangered host.

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