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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39612. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039612. Epub 2012 Jun 25.

Consequences of landscape fragmentation on Lyme disease risk: a cellular automata approach.

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Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research, Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


The abundance of infected Ixodid ticks is an important component of human risk of Lyme disease, and various empirical studies have shown that this is associated, at least in part, to landscape fragmentation. In this study, we aimed at exploring how varying woodland fragmentation patterns affect the risk of Lyme disease, through infected tick abundance. A cellular automata model was developed, incorporating a heterogeneous landscape with three interactive components: an age-structured tick population, a classical disease transmission function, and hosts. A set of simplifying assumptions were adopted with respect to the study objective and field data limitations. In the model, the landscape influences both tick survival and host movement. The validation of the model was performed with an empirical study. Scenarios of various landscape configurations (focusing on woodland fragmentation) were simulated and compared. Lyme disease risk indices (density and infection prevalence of nymphs) differed considerably between scenarios: (i) the risk could be higher in highly fragmented woodlands, which is supported by a number of recently published empirical studies, and (ii) grassland could reduce the risk in adjacent woodland, which suggests landscape fragmentation studies of zoonotic diseases should not focus on the patch-level woodland patterns only, but also on landscape-level adjacent land cover patterns. Further analysis of the simulation results indicated strong correlations between Lyme disease risk indices and the density, shape and aggregation level of woodland patches. These findings highlight the strong effect of the spatial patterns of local host population and movement on the spatial dynamics of Lyme disease risks, which can be shaped by woodland fragmentation. In conclusion, using a cellular automata approach is beneficial for modelling complex zoonotic transmission systems as it can be combined with either real world landscapes for exploring direct spatial effects or artificial representations for outlining possible empirical investigations.

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