Wildlife disease dynamics: Linking host and pathogen traits

Pathogens are an integral part of biodiversity, influencing population dynamics of their hosts and playing an important functional role in shaping community structure. We study how different movement types and life-history strategies of species affect disease spread, persistence and evolution.

Project details
Duration: 10/2015 - 09/2024
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Ecological Dynamics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, Viktoriia Radchuk  (all: Dept Ecological Dynamics)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Cedric Scherer, Tobias Kürschner (all: Dept Ecological Dynamics)
Consortium Partner(s): University of Potsdam, Freie Universität Berlin, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)
Current Funding Organisation: German Science Foundation (DFG)

Research Foci:

Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Understanding the environmental context
Developing theories, methods, and tools


Pathogens are an integral part of biodiversity as they influence population dynamics of their hosts and play an important functional role in shaping community structure. Our aim is to understand what effect species as ‘mobile pathogen links’ – with all their different movement types and life-history strategies – have on disease distribution, spread, persistence and evolution. For example, population densities and contact rates among individuals are two factors that are particularly relevant for disease outbreaks. Although any differences in movement behaviour due to individual characteristics of the host and heterogeneity in landscape structure are likely to have considerable consequences for disease dynamics, these mechanisms are neglected in most epidemiological studies.

Therefore, developing a general understanding of how the interaction of movement behaviour and spatial heterogeneity shapes host densities, contact rates and ultimately pathogen spread is a central aspect in ecological and epidemiological research. To approach this question, we are using theoretical modelling approaches to investigate bottom-up effects of individual movement behaviour and static heterogeneous landscape structure. We look, how a dynamically (random or seasonal) changing landscape influences the interactions between host species and pathogen. Furthermore, we use empirical modelling to analyse spatiotemporal dynamics in real epidemiological data.

Our studies on the spatiotemporal behaviour of bats are embedded in the DFG Research Training Group Biomove.  

Selected Publications

Scherer C, Radchuk V, Staubach C, Müller S, Blaum N, Thulke HH, Kramer-Schadt S (2019): Seasonal host life‐history processes fuel disease dynamics at different spatial scales. J ANIM ECOL 88, 1812 - 1824. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.13070.

Scherer C, Radchuk V,Franz M, Thulke H, Lange M, Grimm V, Kramer–Schadt S (2020): Moving infections: individual movement decisions drive disease persistence in spatially structured landscapes. OIKOS. doi:10.1111/oik.07002

Marescot L, Benhaiem S, Gimenez O, Hofer H, Lebreton JD, Olarte-Castillo XA, Kramer-Schadt S, East ML (2018): Social status mediates the fitness costs of infection with canine distemper virus in a social carnivore. FUNCT ECOL 32, 1237-1250. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.13059.

Kramer-Schadt S, Fernández N, Eisinger D, Grimm V, Thulke H-H (2009): Individual variation in infectiousness explains long-term disease persistence in wildlife populations. OIKOS 118, 199-208. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0706.2008.16582.x.