Disease and the dynamics of extinction
Invading infectious diseases can, in theory, lead to the extinction of host populations, particularly if reservoir species are present or if disease transmission is frequency-dependent. The number of historic or prehistoric extinctions that can unequivocally be attributed to infectious disease is relatively small, but gathering firm evidence in retrospect is extremely difficult. Amphibian chytridiomycosis and Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) are two very different infectious diseases that are currently threatening to cause extinctions in Australia. These provide an unusual opportunity to investigate the processes of disease-induced extinction and possible management strategies. Both diseases are apparently recent in origin. Tasmanian DFTD is entirely host-specific but potentially able to cause extinction because transmission depends weakly, if at all, on host density. Amphibian chytridiomycosis has a broad host range but is highly pathogenic only to some populations of some species. At present, both diseases can only be managed by attempting to isolate individuals or populations from disease. Management options to accelerate the process of evolution of host resistance or tolerance are being investigated in both cases. Anthropogenic changes including movement of diseases and hosts, habitat destruction and fragmentation and climate change are likely to increase emerging disease threats to biodiversity and it is critical to further develop strategies to manage these threats.
Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society Biological Sciences
Ecological Applications not elsewhere classified