Incorporating habitat distribution in wildlife disease models: conservation implications for the threat of squirrelpox on the Isle of Arran
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Emerging infectious diseases are a substantial threat to native populations. The spread of disease through naive native populations will depend on both demographic and disease parameters, as well as on habitat suitability and connectivity. Using the potential spread of squirrelpox virus (SQPV) on the Isle of Arran as a case study, we develop mathematical models to examine the impact of an emerging disease on a population in a complex landscape of di erent habitat types. Furthermore, by considering a range of disease parameters, we infer more generally how complex landscapes interact with disease characteristics to determine the spread and persistence of disease. Speci c ndings indicate that a SQPV outbreak on Arran is likely to be short lived and localised to the point of introduction allowing recovery of red squirrels to pre-infection densities; this has important consequences for the conservation of red squirrels. More generally, we nd the extent of disease spread is dependent on the rare passage of infection through poor quality corridors connecting good quality habitats. Acute, highly transmissible infectious diseases are predicted to spread rapidly causing high mortality. Nonetheless the disease typically fades out following local epidemics and is not supported in the long-term. A chronic infectious disease is predicted to spread more slowly but can remain endemic in the population. This allows the disease to spread more extensively in the long-term as it increases the chance of spread between poorly connected populations. Our results highlight how a detailed understanding of landscape connectivity is crucial when considering conservation strategies to protect native species from disease threats.
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