Advances from the nexus of animal behaviour and pathogen transmission: new directions and opportunities using contact networks

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Abstract

Contact network models have enabled significant advances in understanding the influence of behaviour on parasite and pathogen transmission. They are an important tool that links variation in individual behaviour, to epidemiological consequences at the population level. Here, in our introduction to this special issue, we highlight the importance of applying network approaches to disease ecological and epidemiological questions, and how this has provided a much deeper understanding of these research areas. Recent advances in tracking host behaviour (bio-logging: e.g., GPS tracking, barcoding) and tracking pathogens (high-resolution sequencing), as well as methodological advances (multi-layer networks, computational techniques) started producing exciting new insights into disease transmission through contact networks. We discuss some of the exciting directions that the field is taking, some of the challenges, and importantly the opportunities that lie ahead. For instance, we suggest to integrate multiple transmission pathways, multiple pathogens, and in some systems, multiple host species, into the next generation of network models. Corresponding opportunities exist in utilising molecular techniques, such as high-resolution sequencing, to establish causality in network connectivity and disease outcomes. Such novel developments and the continued integration of network tools offers a more complete understanding of pathogen transmission processes, their underlying mechanisms and their evolutionary consequences.

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