The roles of community diversity and contact rates on pathogen prevalence

M. Denise Dearing
Christy Clay
Erin Lehmer
Laurie Dizney, University of Portland

Journal of Mammalogy, 2015, Volume 96, Volume 1, 29-36.

© 2015 American Society of Mammalogists

Linked version is final published version.


The complexity of a community can play a fundamental role in the prevalence of pathogens by altering interactions among hosts and pathogen transmission. Information on the frequency of contacts between individuals and the distribution of contact rates in a population is critical to predicting pathogen prevalence. However, contact rates are notoriously difficult to document especially in small, nocturnal species. We have been documenting the contact rates of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) in nature with respect to infection with Sin Nombre virus (SNV), a zoonotic pathogen, and the biodiversity of the mammalian community. Our long-term field studies, as well as those of others, revealed that prevalence of SNV in deer mice is related to the complexity of the mammalian community such that pathogen prevalence is lower in more diverse communities. Using a combination of techniques, we found evidence that contact rates between deer mice differ with respect to biodiversity. Deer mice in more complex communities had fewer intraspecific interactions than those in less diverse communities. Contact rates of individual deer mice were highly variable with a minority of the deer mice accounting for a majority of the interactions. Infection with SNV was related to risk-taking behavior; animals categorized as “bold” were 3 times more likely to be infected than “shy” deer mice. Results of these studies have implications for pathogen management in wildlife and humans.