How does the spatial structure of habitat loss affect the eco-epidemic dynamics?

15 August 2009

Habitat loss is considered as one of the primary causes of species extinction, especially for a species that also suffers from an epidemic disease. Little attention has been paid to the combined effect of habitat loss and epidemic transmission on the species spatiotemporal dynamics. Here, a spatial model of the parasite–host/prey–predator eco-epidemiological system with habitat loss was studied. Habitat patches in the model, instead of undergoing a random loss, were spatially clustered by different degrees. Not only the quantity of habitat loss but also its clustering degree was shown to affect the equilibrium of the system. The infection rate and the probability of successful predation were keys to determine the spatial patterns of species. The epidemic disease is more likely to break out if only a small amount of suitable patches were lost. Counter-intuitively, infected preys are more sensitive to habitat loss than predators if the lost patches are highly clustered. This result is new to eco-epidemiology and implies a possibility of using spatial arrangement of suitable (or unsuitable) patches to control the spread of epidemics in the ecological system.