Understanding host–pathogen dynamics requires realistic consideration of transmission events that, in the case of directly transmitted pathogens, result from contacts between susceptible and infected individuals. The corresponding contact rates are usually heterogeneous due to variation in individual movement patterns and the underlying landscape structure. However, in epidemiological models, the roles that explicit host movements and landscape structure play in shaping contact rates are often overlooked.
We adapted an established agent‐based model of classical swine fever (CSF) in wild boar Sus scrofa to investigate how explicit representation of landscape heterogeneity and host movement between social groups affects invasion and persistence probabilities. We simulated individual movement both phenomenologically as a correlated random walk (CRW) and mechanistically by representing interactions of the moving individuals with the landscape and host population structure.
The effect of landscape structure on the probability of invasion success and disease persistence depended remarkably on the way host movement is simulated and the case fatality ratio associated with the pathogen strain. The persistence probabilities were generally low with CRW which ignores feedbacks to external factors. Although the basic reproduction number R0, a measure of the contagiousness of an infectious disease, was kept constant, these probabilities were up to eight times higher under mechanistic movement rules, especially in heterogeneous landscapes. The increased persistence emerged due to important feedbacks of the directed movement on the spatial variation of host density, contact rates, and transmission events to distant areas.
Our findings underscore the importance of accounting for spatial context and group size structures in eco‐epidemiological models. Our study highlights that the simulation of explicit, mechanistic movement behaviour can reverse predictions of disease persistence in comparison to phenomenological rules such as random walk approaches. This can have severe consequences when predicting the probability of disease persistence and assessing control measures to prevent outbreaks.