Pathogen spillover during land conversion

Christina L. Faust, Hamish I. McCallum, Laura S.P. Bloomfield, Nicole L. Gottdenker, Thomas R. Gillespie, Colin J. Torney, Andrew P. Dobson, Raina K. Plowright

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

136 Scopus citations


Pathogen spillover from wildlife to domestic animals and humans, and the reverse, has caused significant epidemics and pandemics worldwide. Although pathogen emergence has been linked to anthropogenic land conversion, a general framework to disentangle underlying processes is lacking. We develop a multi-host model for pathogen transmission between species inhabiting intact and converted habitat. Interspecies contacts and host populations vary with the proportion of land converted; enabling us to quantify infection risk across a changing landscape. In a range of scenarios, the highest spillover risk occurs at intermediate levels of habitat loss, whereas the largest, but rarest, epidemics occur at extremes of land conversion. This framework provides insights into the mechanisms driving disease emergence and spillover during land conversion. The finding that the risk of spillover is highest at intermediate levels of habitat loss provides important guidance for conservation and public health policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-483
Number of pages13
JournalEcology letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • emerging infectious diseases
  • interspecies transmission
  • land use and land cover change


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