Complexity and anisotropy in host morphology make populations less susceptible to epidemic outbreaks

Francisco J. Perez-Reche, Sergei N. Taraskin, Luciano da F. Costa, Franco M. Neri, Christopher A. Gilligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


One of the challenges in epidemiology is to account for the complex morphological structure of hosts such as plant roots, crop fields, farms, cells, animal habitats and social networks, when the transmission of infection occurs between contiguous hosts. Morphological complexity brings an inherent heterogeneity in populations and affects the dynamics of pathogen spread in such systems. We have analysed the influence of realistically complex host morphology on the threshold for invasion and epidemic outbreak in an SIR (susceptible-infected-recovered) epidemiological model. We show that disorder expressed in the host morphology and anisotropy reduces the probability of epidemic outbreak and thus makes the system more resistant to epidemic outbreaks. We obtain general analytical estimates for minimally safe bounds for an invasion threshold and then illustrate their validity by considering an example of host data for branching hosts (salamander retinal ganglion cells). Several spatial arrangements of hosts with different degrees of heterogeneity have been considered in order to separately analyse the role of shape complexity and anisotropy in the host population. The estimates for invasion threshold are linked to morphological characteristics of the hosts that can be used for determining the threshold for invasion in practical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1083-1092
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number48
Early online date14 Jan 2010
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2010


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