Disease ecology and the global emergence of zoonotic pathogens

Original Article


The incidence and frequency of epidemic transmission of zoonotic diseases, both known and newly recognized, has increased dramatically in the past 30 years. It is thought that this dramatic disease emergence is primarily the result of the social, demographic, and environmental transformation that has occurred globally since World War II. However, the causal linkages have not been elucidated. Investigating emerging zoonotic pathogens as an ecological phenomenon can provide significant insights as to why some of these pathogens have jumped species and caused major epidemics in humans. A review of concepts and theory from biological ecology and of causal factors in disease emergence previously described suggests a general model of global zoonotic disease emergence. The model links demographic and societal factors to land use and land cover change whose associated ecological factors help explain disease emergence. The scale and magnitude of these changes are more significant than those associated with climate change, the effects of which are largely not yet understood. Unfortunately, the complex character and non-linear behavior of the human-natural systems in which host-pathogen systems are embedded makes specific incidences of disease emergence or epidemics inherently difficult to predict. Employing a complex systems analytical approach, however, may show how a few key ecological variables and system properties, including the adaptive capacity of institutions, explains the emergence of infectious diseases and how an integrated, multi-level approach to zoonotic disease control can reduce risk.

Key words

emerging diseases ecosystem change ecology complexity sustainable development 


  1. (1).
    Institute of Medicine. Microbial threats to health: emergence, detection, and response. Smolinski MS, Hamburg MA, Lederberg J editors. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2003.Google Scholar
  2. (2).
    Meyer WB, Turner BL. Changes in Land Use and Land Cover: A Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press; 1994.Google Scholar
  3. (3).
    Vitousek PM, Mooney HA, et al. Human domination of earth’s ecosystems. Science. 1997; 277: 494–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. (4).
    Golley F. A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 1993.Google Scholar
  5. (5).
    Keller DB, Golley FB. The Philosophy of Ecology, from Science to Synthesis. Athens: University of Georgia Press; 2000.Google Scholar
  6. (6).
    Levin SA. Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons. Perseus Books Group; 1999Google Scholar
  7. (7).
    Levin BR, Lipsitch M, et al. Population biology, evolution, and infectious disease: convergence and synthesis. Science. 1999; 283: 806–809.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. (8).
    Gunderson LH, Holling CS editors. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Systems of Humans and Nature. Washington DC: Island Press; 2002.Google Scholar
  9. (9).
    Morse SS. Factors in the emergence of infectious diseases. Emerg Infect Dis. 1995; 1: 7–15.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. (10).
    Gubler DJ. Resurgent vector-borne diseases as a global health problem. Emerg Infect Dis. 1998; 4: 442–450.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. (11).
    Daszak P, Cunningham AA, Hyatt AD. Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife—threats to biodiversity and human health. Science. 2000; 287: 443–449.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. (12).
    Patz J, Graczyk TK, Geller N, Yittor AY. Effects of environmental change on emerging parasitic diseases. Int J Parasitol. 2000; 30: 1395–1405.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. (13).
    Patz J, Daszak P, Tabor GM, Aguirre AA, Pearl M, Epstein J, et al. Unhealthy landscapes: policy recommendations on land use change and infectious disease emergence. Env Health Persp. 2004; 112: 1092–1097.Google Scholar
  14. (14).
    De Kruif P. Microbe Hunters. Harcourt. Brace and Co.; 1926.Google Scholar
  15. (15).
    Oldstone MBA. Viruses, Plagues & History. Oxford University Press; 1998.Google Scholar
  16. (16).
    Ross R. An application of theory of probabilities to the study of an a priori pathometry, number 1. Proc R Soc A. 1916; 92: 204–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. (17).
    Anderson RM, May RM. Infectious Diseases of Humans. Dynamics and Control. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1991.Google Scholar
  18. (18).
    Gubler DJ. Prevention and control of tropical diseases in the 21st century: back to the field. Am J Tr Med Hygiene. 2001; 65: 1.Google Scholar
  19. (19).
    Stearns SC editor. Evolution in Health and Disease. Oxford. University Press; 1999.Google Scholar
  20. (20).
    Frank SA. The immunology and evolution of infectious disease. Princeton University Press; 2002.Google Scholar
  21. (21).
    Holling CS. The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems: Local surprise and global change. In: Clark WC. Munn RE editors. Sustainable Development of the Biosphere. Cambridge Press. Syndicate of the University of Cambridge; 1986. p. 292–397.Google Scholar
  22. (22).
    Holling CS. Cross-scale morphology, geometry, and dynamics of ecosystems. Ecol Monographs. 1992; 62: 447–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. (23).
    Gunderson LH, Holling CS, Light SS. editors. Barriers and Bridges to the Renewal of Ecosystems and Institutions. New York: Columbia University Press; 1995.Google Scholar
  24. (24).
    Berry BLJ. Urbanization. In: Turner BLH, Clark WC, Kates RW, Richards JF, Mathews JT, Meyer, WB editors. The Earth as Transformed by Human Action: Global and Regional Changes in the Biosphere over the Past 300 Years. Cambridge. University Press; 1990. p. 103–119.Google Scholar
  25. (25).
    Clark WC, Kates RW, et al. The Earth as Transformed by Human Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1990.Google Scholar
  26. (26).
    Anderson RM, May RM. Population biology of infectious diseases: part I. Nature. 1979; 280: 361–367.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. (27).
    May RM, Anderson RM. Population biology of infectious diseases: part II. Nature. 1979; 280: 455–461.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. (28).
    Black FL. Measles endemicity in insular populations: critical community size and its evolutionary implication. J Theor Biol. 1966: 11: 207–211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. (29).
    Anderson RM. Population Ecology of Infection Disease Agents. Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications. 1981. p. 318–355.Google Scholar
  30. (30).
    Gubler DJ. Aedes egypti and Aedes egypti-borne disease control in the 1990s: top down or bottom up. Am J Trop Med Hygiene. 1989; 40: 571–578.Google Scholar
  31. (31).
    Schrag SJ, Wiener P. Emerging infectious disease: what are the relative roles of ecology and evolution. Trends Ecol Evol. 1995; 10: 319–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. (32).
    Horwitz P, Wilcox BA. Parasites, ecosystems and sustainability: some notes on nested interdependencies. Intl J Parasitol. 2005; 35: 725–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. (33).
    May RM. Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications. Sinauer Associates. 1981.Google Scholar
  34. (34).
    Diamond JM. Assembly of species communities. In: Cody ML, Diamond JM editors. Ecology and Evolution of Communities. 1975. p. 342–344.Google Scholar
  35. (35).
    Diamond JM, May RM. Island biogeography and the design of nature reserves. In: May RM editor. Theoretical Lcology. Principles and Applications. Sinauer Associates; 1981. p. 228–252.Google Scholar
  36. (36).
    Rosenzwieg ML. Species Diversity in Space and Time. Cambridge University Press: 1995.Google Scholar
  37. (37).
    Wilcox BA. Insular ecology and conservation. In: Soulé ME, Wilcox BA editors. Conservation Biology: An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective. 1980. p. 95–117.Google Scholar
  38. (38).
    Wilcox BA, Murphy DD. Conservation strategy: The effects of fragmentation on extinction. Am Nat. 1985; 125: 879–887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. (39).
    Ferraz G, Russell GJ, et al. Rates of species loss from Amazonian forest fragments. PNAS. 2003 100: 14069–14073.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. (40).
    Laurance WF, Laurance SG, et al. Biomass collapse in Amazonian forest fragments. Science. 1997; 278: 1117–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. (41).
    Terborgh J, Lopez L, et al. Ecological meltdown in predatorfree forest fragments. Science. 2001; 294: 1923–1926.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. (42).
    Prenter J, MacNeil C, Dick JTA, Dunn AM. Roles of parasites in animal invasions. Tr Ecol Evol. 2004; 19: 385–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. (43).
    Diamond JM. Normal extinctions of isolated populations. In: Nitecki MH editor. Extinctions. University of Chicago Press; 1984.Google Scholar
  44. (44).
    Wilcox BA. Supersaturated island faunas: A species-age relationship for lizards on post-Pleistocene land bridge Islands in the Gulf of California. Science. 1978; 199: 996–998.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. (45).
    National Research Council. Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and Committee on Global Change Research. Human dimensions of global environmental change: research pathways for the next decade. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1999.Google Scholar
  46. (46).
    Aron JL, Patz JA. Ecosystem Change and Public Health: A Global Perspective. Johns Hopkins University Press; 2001.Google Scholar
  47. (47).
    Checkland P. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Wiley: 1981.Google Scholar
  48. (48).
    Gunderson LH. Adaptive dancing: Interactions between social resilience and ecological crises. In: Berkes F, Colding J. Folke C editors. Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building, Resilience for Complexity and Change Cambridge University Press: 2002. p. 33–52.Google Scholar
  49. (49).
    McNeil WH. Plagues and Peoples. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday 1976.Google Scholar
  50. (50).
    McMichael T. Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease. Cambridge University Press; 2001.Google Scholar
  51. (51).
    Hughes JM. Emerging infectious diseases a CDC perspective. Emerg Infect Dis. 2001; 7(3 Suppl): 494–496.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. (52).
    Cuaron AD. A global perspective on habitat disturbance and tropical rainforest mammal. Con Biol. 2000; 14: 1574–1579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. (53).
    Dangles O, Malmqvist B. Species richness-decomposition relationships depend on species dominance. Eco Let. 2004; 7: 395–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. (54).
    Lawton JH, May RM editors Extinction Rates. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press; 1995.Google Scholar
  55. (55).
    Matson PA, Parton WJ, Power AG, Swift MJ. Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science. 1997; 277: 504–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. (56).
    Power AG, Flecker AS. In: Orians GH, Dirzo R, Cushman JH, editors. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes in Tropical Forests. New York: Springer-Verlag; 1996; p. 173–194.Google Scholar
  57. (57).
    Institute of Medicine. Emerging infections: Microbial threats to health in the United States. Lederberg J, Shope RE, Oaks SC Jr editors. Washington, DC: National Academy Press: 1992.Google Scholar
  58. (58).
    Somerville MA, Rapport DJ. Transdisciplinarity: Recreating Integrated Knowledge. McGill-Queen’s University Press: 2003.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Hygiene 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Asia-Pacific Institute for Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Department of Tropical Medicine and Medical Microbiology. John A. Burns School of MedicineUniversity of HawaiiHonolulu

Personalised recommendations