Advances and limitations of disease biogeography using ecological niche modeling

Luis E. Escobar, Meggan E. Craft

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Mapping disease transmission risk is crucial in public and animal health for evidence based decision-making. Ecology and epidemiology are highly related disciplines that may contribute to improvements in mapping disease, which can be used to answer health related questions. Ecological niche modeling is increasingly used for understanding the biogeography of diseases in plants, animals, and humans. However, epidemiological applications of niche modeling approaches for disease mapping can fail to generate robust study designs, producing incomplete or incorrect inferences. This manuscript is an overview of the history and conceptual bases behind ecological niche modeling, specifically as applied to epidemiology and public health; it does not pretend to be an exhaustive and detailed description of ecological niche modeling literature and methods. Instead, this review includes selected state-of-the-science approaches and tools, providing a short guide to designing studies incorporating information on the type and quality of the input data (i.e., occurrences and environmental variables), identification and justification of the extent of the study area, and encourages users to explore and test diverse algorithms for more informed conclusions. We provide a friendly introduction to the field of disease biogeography presenting an updated guide for researchers looking to use ecological niche modeling for disease mapping. We anticipate that ecological niche modeling will soon be a critical tool for epidemiologists aiming to map disease transmission risk, forecast disease distribution under climate change scenarios, and identify landscape factors triggering outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1174
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberAUG
StatePublished - Aug 5 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding LEE was funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Found and MEC was funded by the National Science Foundation (DEB-1413925), the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center Seed Grant and the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Cooperative State Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, under Projects Nos. MINV-62-044 and 62-051.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Escobar and Craft.


  • Fundamental niche
  • Infectious disease
  • Prediction
  • Risk map
  • Spatial epidemiology


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