Director’s Research Among Most Notable Papers Impacting The Science Of Ecology

An image of a landscape demonstrating the spread of Sudden Oak Death
Meentemeyer et al 2011 Figure 3
Fig. 3. Predicted spread of the sudden oak death epidemic through time (1990–2030) under an assumption of weather conditions like those experienced 1990–2008. The intensity of green to yellow to red shading is the mean infection density (I) of a 250 m grid cell over 1000 model simulations. Independent simulations were all initiated from the three sites of introduction in 1990 based on California Department of Food and Agriculture records (Kelly and Tuxen 2003). The sites are identifiable by the red regions in year 2000. Host vegetation with no infection is denoted in dark gray. Locations where host vegetation is absent are denoted in light gray.

As part of the Ecological Society of America‘s Centennial celebration, the organization released its top 10 lists of the most notable papers published in ESA journals. Director Ross Meentemeyer’s co-authored research paper, “Epidemiological modeling of invasion in heterogeneous landscapes: spread of sudden oak death in California (1990–2030),” published in Ecosphere, is among a very prestigious group of seminal papers that, according to ESA, “…have had significant impact on the science of ecology.” The lists are meant to be a starting point for discussion, and observations and comments on the papers are welcomed.

Meentemeyer et al. 2011 and all the ESA’s notable papers will be available open-access through the end of the year. See for more information. Full citation and abstract are below.

Citation: Ross K. Meentemeyer, Nik J. Cunniffe, Alex R. Cook, Joao A. N. Filipe, Richard D. Hunter, David M. Rizzo, and Christopher A. Gilligan 2011. Epidemiological modeling of invasion in heterogeneous landscapes: spread of sudden oak death in California (1990–2030) Ecosphere 2:art17.

Abstract: The spread of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) in natural environments poses substantial risks to biodiversity and ecosystem function. As EIDs and their impacts grow, landscape- to regional-scale models of disease dynamics are increasingly needed for quantitative prediction of epidemic outcomes and design of practicable strategies for control. Here we use spatio-temporal, stochastic epidemiological modeling in combination with realistic geographical modeling to predict the spread of the sudden oak death pathogen (Phytophthora ramorum) through heterogeneous host populations in wildland forests, subject to fluctuating weather conditions. The model considers three stochastic processes: (1) the production of inoculum at a given site; (2) the chance that inoculum is dispersed within and among sites; and (3) the probability of infection following transmission to susceptible host vegetation. We parameterized the model using Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) estimation from snapshots of local- and regional-scale data on disease spread, taking account of landscape heterogeneity and the principal scales of spread. Our application of the model to Californian landscapes over a 40-year period (1990–2030), since the approximate time of pathogen introduction, revealed key parameters driving the spatial spread of disease and the magnitude of stochastic variability in epidemic outcomes. Results show that most disease spread occurs via local dispersal (<250 m) but infrequent long-distance dispersal events can substantially accelerate epidemic spread in regions with high host availability and suitable weather conditions. In the absence of extensive control, we predict a ten-fold increase in disease spread between 2010 and 2030 with most infection concentrated along the north coast between San Francisco and Oregon. Long-range dispersal of inoculum to susceptible host communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills and coastal southern California leads to little secondary infection due to lower host availability and less suitable weather conditions. However, a shift to wetter and milder conditions in future years would double the amount of disease spread in California through 2030. This research illustrates how stochastic epidemiological models can be applied to realistic geographies and used to increase predictive understanding of disease dynamics in large, heterogeneous regions.

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Meentemeyer et al 2011 Figure 5
Fig. 5.  Geographical variability of the number of secondary infections caused by a single infectious focus randomly located in California, based on 1000 randomly located sample points. We simulated 50 iterations of the model from 1990–1995 using each of the 1000 points as a single starting point for secondary infection and spread. The number of infected cells associated with each location was calculated and spatially interpolated across the pathogen’s host range using ordinary kriging with the values here shown on a log scale. The 3 × 3 panel inset illustrates the range of host and weather interactions that lead to large and small amounts of secondary infection. Favorable weather or high connectivity of susceptible hosts alone is insufficient to promote a high risk of secondary cell to cell spread. For example, comparatively low risks occur in portions of the Sierra Nevada foothills where there may be relatively high amounts of susceptible host vegetation (center of inset) but unfavorable weather.