Modeling the Role of Land-Use Change on the Spread of Infectious Disease

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Land-use change has arguably been the largest contributor to the emergence of novel zoonotic diseases within the past century. However, the relationship between patterns of land-use change and the resulting

Land-use change has arguably been the largest contributor to the emergence of novel zoonotic diseases within the past century. However, the relationship between patterns of land-use change and the resulting landscape configuration on disease spread is poorly understood as current cross-species disease transmission models have not adequately incorporated spatial features of habitats. Furthermore, mathematical-epidemiological studies have not considered the role that land-use change plays in disease transmission throughout an ecosystem.

This dissertation models how a landscape's configuration, examining the amount and shape of habitat overlap, contributes to cross-species disease transmission to determine the role that land-use change has on the spread of infectious diseases. To approach this, an epidemiological model of transmission between a domesticated and a wild species is constructed. Each species is homogeneously mixed in its respective habitat and heterogeneously mixed in the habitat overlap, where cross-species transmission occurs. Habitat overlap is modeled using landscape ecology metrics.

This general framework is then applied to brucellosis transmission between elk and cattle in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The application of the general framework allows for the exploration of how land-use change has contributed to brucellosis prevalence in these two species, and how land management can be utilized to control disease transmission. This model is then extended to include a third species, bison, in order to provide insight to the indirect consequences of disease transmission for a species that is situated on land that has not been converted. The results of this study can ultimately help stakeholders develop policy for controlling brucellosis transmission between livestock, elk, and bison, and in turn, could lead to less disease prevalence, reduce associated costs, and assist in population management.

This research contributes novelty by combining landscape ecology metrics with theoretical epidemiological models to understand how the shape, size, and distribution of habitat fragments on a landscape affect cross-species disease transmission. The general framework demonstrates how habitat edge in single patch impacts cross-species disease transmission. The application to brucellosis transmission in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem between elk, cattle, and bison is original research that enhances understanding of how land conversion is associated with enzootic disease spread.