Host density and habitat structure influence host contact rates and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans transmission
Malagon, D. A, L. A. Melara, O. F. Proper, S. Lenhart, E. D. Carter, J. A. Fordyce, A. C. Peterson, D. L. Miller, and M. J. Gray.  2020.  Scientific Reports.  (in press)

Abstract:
Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) is an emerging invasive pathogen that is highly pathogenic to salamander species. Modeling infection dynamics in this system can facilitate proactive efforts to mitigate this pathogen's impact on North American species. Given its widespread distribution and high abundance, the eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) has the potential to significantly influence Bsal epidemiology. We designed experiments to 1) estimate contact rates given different host densities and habitat structure and 2) estimate the probability of transmission from infected to susceptible individuals. Using parameter estimates from data generated during these experiments, we modeled infection and disease outcomes for a population of newts using a system of differential equations. We found that host contact rates were density-dependent, and that adding habitat structure reduced contacts. The probability of Bsal transmission given contact between newts was very high (>90%) even at early stages of infection. Our simulations show rapid transmission of Bsal among individuals following pathogen introduction, with infection prevalence exceeding 90% within one month and >80% mortality of newts in three months. Estimates of basic reproductive rate (R0) of Bsal for eastern newts were 1.9 and 3.2 for complex and simple habitats, respectively. Although reducing host density and increasing habitat complexity might decrease transmission, these management strategies may be ineffective at stopping Bsal invasion in eastern newt populations due to this speciesí hyper-susceptibility.