How Does Biodiversity Influence the Ecology of Infectious Disease?

  • Gwenaël Vourc’h
  • Olivier Plantard
  • Serge Morand


Over the past years, biodiversity has been reduced on an unprecedented scale, while new infectious diseases are emerging at an increasing rate. Greater overall biodiversity could lead to a greater diversity of hosts and thus of pathogens. Yet disease regulation – due to the buffering role of host diversity – is considered to be one of the services provided by biodiversity. In this chapter, we ask how biodiversity is linked to infectious disease. First, we investigate the influence of the biodiversity of pathogens. We highlight that the number of pathogen species is not well known but that new findings are facilitated by the rapid expansion of molecular techniques. We show that, although there is a trend to find higher pathogen richness toward the equator, identifying a global pattern between the richness of all pathogen species and their latitudinal distribution is challenging. We emphasize that pathogen intraspecific diversity is a crucial factor in disease emergence and allows pathogens to adapt to the selective pressures they face. In addition, the selective pressure acting on hosts due to parasite, and reinforced by parasite diversity within hosts seems to be a major evolutionary and ecological force shaping hosts biodiversity. Second, we investigate how the diversity of hosts influences infectious disease ecology. For multi-host diseases, a change in host species richness or abundance can modify the dynamics of local infectious diseases by either reducing (“dilution effect”) or increasing (“amplification effect”) the risk of transmission to the targeted host species. The underlying hypothesis is that, the competence of reservoirs varies according to the host species. The dilution effect has been demonstrated mainly through theoretical work and there have been only few case studies. Regarding the genetic diversity of host, an important issue is: to what extent does a reduction of this diversity impact the ability of the host population to response to infectious diseases? Third, we rapidly examine the role of biodiversity in the treatment of infectious diseases. To conclude, we consider that the consequences of the loss of species biodiversity on infectious diseases is still largely unknown, notably due to the lack of knowledge on the dynamics of host-pathogen relationships, especially at the population and at the community level.. We highlight that work on multi-host/ ulti-pathogen systems should be fostered and that new approaches, such as metagenomic investigations that does not require a priori assumptions, are promising to describe a community of pathogens and their interactions.


Major Histocompatibility Complex West Nile Virus Lyme Disease Pathogen Species Major Histocompatibility Complex Gene 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gwenaël Vourc’h
    • 1
  • Olivier Plantard
    • 2
    • 3
  • Serge Morand
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Unité d’Epidémiologie Animale (UR346) Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA)St Genès ChampanelleFrance
  2. 2.INRA, UMR 1300 BiOEpAR (Bio-agression, Epidémiologie et Analyse de Risque en santé animale)NantesFrance
  3. 3.LUNAM Université, OnirisNantesFrance
  4. 4.Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, CNRS-IRD-UM2, CC65Université Montpellier 2MontpellierFrance
  5. 5.CIRAD AGIRsMontpellierFrance

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