Predicting zoonotic spillovers under future environmental stressors

How will global change impact emergence and spread of human infectious diseases?

Data resources used via GBIF : 88 species occurrences
Natal multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis)

Natal multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) by batwrangler. Photo licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

A zoonotic spillover is when an infectious disease moves from its animal source or reservoir via a vector, to humans. Examples include Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and, the focus of this study, hemorrhagic fever caused by Lassa fever virus (LAS). Integrating global environment stressors, researchers assessed the impact of climate change, population growth and land use on future emergence and spread of LAS. By use of confirmed disease cases and GBIF mediated occurrences of the Lassa virus reservoir, the natal multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis), the researchers created ecological niche models examining relationships with a variety of environmental variables. The find significant associations between LAS outbreak and reservoir presence, annual precipitation, population density and rice yields. The models predict a doubling of spillover events under future scenarios. The methodology described in the study can be incorporated in epidemiological disease models to create a powerful framework for predicting spillovers of zoonotic diseases.


Redding DW, Moses LM, Cunningham AA, Wood J and Jones KE (2016) Environmental-mechanistic modelling of the impact of global change on human zoonotic disease emergence: a case study of Lassa fever. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Wiley-Blackwell 7(6): 646–655. Available at doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12549.