Original paper

Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 211-217

First online:

Local transmission processes and disease-driven host extinctions

  • Alex BestAffiliated withDepartment of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield Email author 
  • , Steve WebbAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Strathclyde
  • , Janis AntonovicsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Virginia
  • , Mike BootsAffiliated withDepartment of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield

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Classic infectious disease theory assumes that transmission depends on either the global density of the parasite (for directly transmitted diseases) or its global frequency (for sexually transmitted diseases). One important implication of this dichotomy is that parasite-driven host extinction is only predicted under frequency-dependent transmission. However, transmission is fundamentally a local process between individuals that is determined by their and/or their vector’s behaviour. We examine the implications of local transmission processes to the likelihood of disease-driven host extinction. Local density-dependent transmission can lead to parasite-driven extinction, but extinction is more likely under local frequency-dependent transmission and much more likely when there is active local searching behaviour. Density-dependent directly transmitted diseases spread locally can therefore lead to deterministic host extinction, but locally frequency-dependent passive vector-borne diseases are more likely to cause extinctions. However, it is active searching behaviour either by a vector or between sexual partners that is most likely to cause the host to go extinct. Our work emphasises that local processes are essential in determining parasite-driven extinctions, and the role of parasites in the extinction of rare species may have been underplayed due to the classic assumption of global density-dependent transmission.


Transmission Spatial structure Host–parasite Extinction