CIE Spotlight: Are Migratory Animals Superspreaders of Infection?

Bethany H.

Bethany H.

Authors: McKay, Alexa Fritzsche; Hoye, Bethany J.


Brief summary of the paper: Migratory animals are simultaneously challenged by the physiological demands of long-distance movements and the need to avoid natural enemies including parasites and pathogens.

The potential for animal migrations to disperse pathogens across large geographic areas has prompted a growing body of research investigating the interactions between migration and infection. However, the phenomenon of animal migration is yet to be incorporated into broader theories in disease ecology.

Because migrations may expose animals to a greater number and diversity of pathogens, increase contact rates between hosts, and render them more susceptible to infection via changes to immune function, migration has the potential to generate both “superspreader species” and infection “hotspots”.

However, migration has also been shown to reduce transmission in some species, by facilitating parasite avoidance (“migratory escape”) and weeding out infected individuals (“migratory culling”).

This symposium was convened in an effort to characterize more broadly the role that animal migrations play in the dynamics of infectious disease, by integrating a range of approaches and scales across host taxa. We began with questions related to within-host processes, focusing on the consequences of nutritional constraints and strenuous movement for individual immune capability, and of parasite infection for movement capacity.

We then scaled-up to between-host processes to identify what types, distances, or patterns of host movements are associated with the spread of infectious agents. Finally, we discussed landscape-scale relationships between migration and infectious disease, and how these may be altered as a result of anthropogenic changes to climate and land use.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the interactions between infection and animal migrations; yet, with so many migrations now under threat, there is an urgent need to develop a holistic understanding of the potential for migrations to both increase and reduce infection risk.