Using contact networks to explore mechanisms of parasite transmission in wildlife

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118 Scopus citations


A hallmark assumption of traditional approaches to disease modelling is that individuals within a given population mix uniformly and at random. However, this assumption does not always hold true; contact heterogeneity or preferential associations can have a substantial impact on the duration, size, and dynamics of epidemics. Contact heterogeneity has been readily adopted in epidemiological studies of humans, but has been less studied in wildlife. While contact network studies are becoming more common for wildlife, their methodologies, fundamental assumptions, host species, and parasites vary widely. The goal of this article is to review how contact networks have been used to study macro- and microparasite transmission in wildlife. The review will: (i) explain why contact heterogeneity is relevant for wildlife populations; (ii) explore theoretical and applied questions that contact networks have been used to answer; (iii) give an overview of unresolved methodological issues; and (iv) suggest improvements and future directions for contact network studies in wildlife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-409
Number of pages21
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Kim VanderWaal and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this manuscript. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. 00039202. J.D.F was supported by an Institute on the Environment Resident Fellowship and a UMN Grant in Aid (#22325). M.E.C. was funded by National Science Foundation (DEB-1413925), the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, Agricultural Experiment Station General Agricultural Research Funds, and College of Veterinary Medicine. This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Project Numbers MINV 62-044, and 62-051. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors. Biological Reviews published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cambridge Philosophical Society.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • contact network
  • contact network epidemiology
  • disease modelling
  • parasite
  • pathogen
  • social network
  • transmission
  • wildlife


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  • Open Access Publishing Fund

    Sims, N. A. (Key Personnel)

    3/1/12 → …

    Project: Other project

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