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Going through the motions: incorporating movement analyses into disease research

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Though epidemiology dates back to the 1700s, most mathematical representations of epidemics still use transmission rates averaged at the population scale, especially for wildlife diseases. In simplifying the contact process, we ignore the heterogeneities in host movements that complicate the real world, and overlook their impact on spatiotemporal patterns of disease burden. Movement ecology offers a set of tools that help unpack the transmission process, letting researchers more accurately model how animals within a population interact and spread pathogens. Analytical techniques from this growing field can also help expose the reverse process: how infection impacts movement behaviors, and therefore other ecological processes like feeding, reproduction, and dispersal. Here, we synthesize the contributions of movement ecology in disease research, with a particular focus on studies that have successfully used movement-based methods to quantify individual heterogeneity in exposure and transmission risk. Throughout, we highlight the rapid growth of both disease and movement ecology, and comment on promising but unexplored avenues for research at their overlap. Ultimately, we suggest, including movement empowers ecologists to pose new questions expanding our understanding of host-pathogen dynamics, and improving our predictive capacity for wildlife and even human diseases.

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